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CHC trial: Kong 'evasive' so as not to implicate himself, prosecution charges

The prosecution has accused Kong Hee of being more hands-on in all aspects of the Crossover Project than he let on.

SINGAPORE: City Harvest Church founder Kong Hee was being evasive so as not to implicate himself in the bond transactions, the prosecution charged, as it resumed its cross-examination of Kong on Wednesday (Aug 20).

Kong has maintained he was only involved in the budgeting of the Crossover Project, and left the financing of the project to his co-accused Tan Ye Peng and Chew Eng Han.

Deputy Public Prosecutor Christopher Ong asked Kong if that meant he would not be responsible if the bonds then turned out to be an illegal mechanism.

Calling it a "difficult question to answer", Kong said: "Because I am a pastor, and as a shepherd, I want to take responsibility for a whole host of things. They - Ye Peng and Eng Han - have assured me that they have sought out advice from the professionals, so would the professionals be responsible?"

Kong is among six church leaders in the dock for allegedly using church monies to buy sham bonds in two companies - Xtron and Firna - in order to fund the Crossover Project. The project, fronted by Kong’s wife Sun Ho, is the church's way of evangelising through secular pop music.

KONG SUPERVISED TEAM CLOSELY

The prosecution sought to show that Kong was more hands-on in all aspects of the Crossover Project than he let on.

Mr Ong pointed to a lengthy and detailed email Kong wrote to chastise Tan as evidence of how closely he supervised his team, whom he called his "spiritual children". The email addressed issues ranging from unhappiness over the location of the hotel he and Ms Ho were staying at in Hong Kong, to consultants who he felt were not up to standard.

In an email to Deputy Senior Pastor Tan Ye Peng, Kong reprimanded him when promotional efforts of Ms Ho's career in China yielded disappointing results. Kong wished he could run the "whole show" the way he ran the church, but as he could not, he put his and Ms Ho's "lives and destiny in the hands of their disciples and spiritual children" and urged Tan not to let them down.

Mr Ong also said Xtron directors did not make decisions about the budgeting and financing of the Crossover Project, as Kong had claimed. He pointed to portions of statements from Tan, Chew and Serina Wee to the Commercial Affairs Department which contradicted Kong’s claims.

XTRON'S CASHFLOW PROBLEMS

The prosecution said Kong was regularly updated about Xtron's cashflow problems, and would have been the one to approve any solutions to make up the deficit. This would ensure Xtron's cashflow problems did not affect its ability to finance the Crossover Project. Xtron was Ms Ho's artiste management firm at the time.

Mr Ong said: "Xtron's cashflow problems ... ultimately become the Crossover's problems, because it has the potential to derail spending on the Crossover."

Emails revealed that by end-2007, Xtron had a deficit of some S$0.5 million, and that some of the accused, including Kong, had discussed either pumping more of the church's money into Xtron or transferring Xtron's expenses to the church. Eventually, this took the form of the bond transactions at the centre of the criminal charges.

FINANCING NEEDS OF CROSSOVER PROJECT

Mr Ong noted that the proposal to purchase the bonds came about because Kong had tasked Tan and Chew to find a way to finance the needs of the Crossover Project. He also observed that there was "no real assessment of commercial motive on either side, as Xtron would benefit from any accounting adjustments made to allow it to deal with its deficit".

The prosecution charged that the accused would have injected capital into Xtron, regardless of the church having to bear increased expenses. "Whatever financial arrangements needed to be made to capitalise Xtron would be done ... Never mind that the church would end up bearing increased expenses," said Mr Ong.

But Kong argued that these expenses to Xtron would have been legitimate ones and for real services. In the case of the bonds, Kong said he was told they were a good investment.