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City Harvest trial: Kong knew Sun Ho’s success was not real, Chew says

Kong Hee knew all the while that money was being spent to boost Sun Ho's CD sales and her position on the music charts, former church investment manager Chew Eng Han said in court.

SINGAPORE: City Harvest Church founder Kong Hee had “shortchanged the faith of the church members” because he knew that his wife Sun Ho’s secular music success was not real, the church’s former investment manager Chew Eng Han said in court on Monday (Aug 18).

Chew and Kong are among six church leaders standing trial for allegedly using millions of church dollars to buy sham bonds to bankroll Ms Ho's pop music career.

Chew, who is defending himself, continued his cross-examination of Kong. He accused Kong of lying to church members about Ms Ho's achievements, all the while knowing that they were shelling out their own money to boost her CD sales. Chew on Monday produced a slew of emails and documents to bolster his claims.

He said he had trusted the church's leadership and believed in the Crossover Project from the beginning, but a series of discoveries in 2013 led him to discover that the project "was not what it is supposed to be".

'FAKE' COMMEMORATIVE STAMPS AND ITUNES SALES? 

For example, Chew called a commemorative series of stamps in China featuring Ms Ho a "scam" and nothing more than "personalised stamps anybody could go to a post office and pay for". Kong refuted this claim, saying that the stamps were presented at a genuine ceremony attended by officials.

Chew also revealed how church members spent thousands on iTunes gift cards to boost sales of Ms Ho's US single, Fancy Free. Kong refuted this, saying that the money came from private donations, and was not meant to boost sales of the single. "It was a marketing strategy to create momentum for the launch of her single," Kong said, adding that the US Billboard Dance chart does not depend on sales.

Chew also charged that Ms Ho's fan base was, in reality, smaller than what Kong allowed church members to believe. He said that what Kong told the church about Ms Ho singing the theme song at the 2007 Special Olympics, and how she had been given a special commemorative series of stamps by organisations in China, were all "false claims".

Chew said these successes led him to believe returns could be generated from Ms Ho's planned US debut album. The album was part of the church's Crossover Project, a way of evangelising through secular pop music. 

"I'll submit to you that you consciously kept all relevant information away from me so that you could continue to use me to help you do whatever was necessary to help arrange the necessary funding," he said to Kong. 

"YOU HAVE BEEN TOTALLY IRRESPONSIBLE": CHEW TO KONG

Chew added that millions of dollars had gone into the production of songs for the album and asked Kong to account for this expenditure. "You have been totally irresponsible in the spending of the money," he charged. He also denied being part of a conspiracy with Kong and said he himself had been deceived.

Chew insisted that he had created a proper set of bonds that were legally documented. But he said it was how the bond proceeds were used that tainted the transaction and turned them into sham bonds.

He even went as far as to say that the Crossover Project was not about the missions of the church, but that it was a "personal crossover".

Chew told the court he had left the church after realising Kong had "deceived the people closest to him".

He told the court that between 2007 and 2009, church members, including him and his wife, had voluntarily given money to a Multi-Purpose Account, which would be used to support Kong and Ms Ho's livelihood. They did so because they believed in the ministry and partially because Kong and Ms Ho had gone off the church's payroll. 

Chew said in 2010, these members were told that there was a deficit in this account and they were asked if they could give more to take care of the deficit. He charged that the deficit had only come about because money had been taken from the account to pay things like royalties and bonuses to Ms Ho. Chew charged that this was kept from the donors who were "closest" to the couple, and their "greatest supporters".

It was also heard that the money from the account could have been used to partially pay the US$20,000 (S$24,900) monthly rent on a house in the US, which was also used as a missions base and dance studio. At one point, Chew also accused Kong of round-tripping in another instance, to get back part of royalties from Kong's materials that had initially been refunded to the church. Kong denied this, saying that this was money given to him by church donors. 

KONG WAS INITIALLY WILLING TO "TAKE THE RAP": CHEW

Chew later accused Kong of flipping and turning on his convictions when giving evidence. Chew also said that during the course of investigations, Kong had indicated he was willing to "take the rap" for the matter, after the church's lawyers told him he had been "negligent". Chew said: "I find it very hard to believe that in a few days after the raid, you were totally in fear (such) that you would be willing to take the rap for everybody. And then, somehow the letter did not get to CAD (Commercial Affairs Department) and at the subsequent interviews with the CAD, you started to point the finger at me. That is incongruous, I cannot understand how that can happen."

Kong clarified that he had been worried when investigations commenced, but had not been "in fear".