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City Harvest trial: Kong listed as ‘invisible’ manager in Xtron meeting

The Xtron meeting minutes disproved Kong's claim that Xtron was independent from the church, the prosecution says.

SINGAPORE: City Harvest Church founder Kong Hee was listed as an "invisible" manager in the minutes of a meeting that laid out the management structure of Xtron Productions, while another church board member Suraj was listed as “ghost director”, the court heard on Friday (Aug 22).

The prosecution produced the minutes of the meeting in 2008, in a bid to show that Xtron was controlled by the church and being used to funnel church monies to finance the secular pop music career of Kong's wife Sun Ho.

Xtron was Ms Ho's artiste management firm at the time. It is one of the two firms accused of helping Kong and his deputies misuse church monies to bankroll the Crossover Project. The project is the church's way of evangelising through secular pop music, and fronted by Ms Ho.

In defence, Kong said he was listed because of his role in negotiating and liaising with the American producers for Ms Ho's US album. He added that he is an "invisible patron" of many organisations because of his position as a pastor.

KONG'S CONTROL OF XTRON EXTENDED TO PAY, MANPOWER DECISIONS: PROSECUTION

The prosecution also had evidence to show that his control extended to making decisions even on salary, bonuses, and manpower matters within the company. Kong insisted what he was doing was "scenario-planning" and would amount to nothing more than proposals that Xtron directors would later have to agree to and have final say on.

He said he was involved in making these proposals out of "pastoral concern" for church staff who had moved to church-linked firms - which included Xtron - to help fulfil the church's mission purposes and vision.

But the prosecution dismissed these explanations as "fabrications", saying it "makes no sense" for Kong to be doing this if he truly had no control over the salaries of these "separate entities".

Deputy Public Prosecutor Christopher Ong pointed out that it was Kong who made the almost-immediate decision to wire US$250,000 to American music producer Justin Herz, for expenses related to Ms Ho's US album.

When questioned about why the Xtron directors had not been the ones to make the decision, Kong said that they had already pre-approved this. Mr Ong charged that this was a "lie" - as it was a request for fresh funds, and Kong had dictated the amount to be wired over to Mr Herz, without seeking the approval of the Xtron directors.

SERINA WEE SET UP COMPANY TO MANAGE XTRON'S ACCOUNTS?

The court also heard that the church's former finance manager Serina Wee had devised a plan to set up an independent company called Advante to manage Xtron's accounts. The prosecution said this was done to reinforce the perception that church and Xtron were separate entities and to hide the fact that Kong and his team were about to channel building fund monies through Xtron in the form of sham bonds. Kong denied this, claiming it was Wee's dream and vision to set up her own company.

"Advante was required because if Serina was known to be handling both the church accounts and Xtron accounts, it would have it clear that the two were related," said Deputy Public Prosecutor Christopher Ong.

Kong disagreed, saying that Wee set up Advante also to avoid a conflict of interest, and that this appeared to reflect better corporate governance. But Mr Ong argued that Wee had discussed her plans for the new company, including staff salaries, with Deputy Senior Pastor and co-accused Tan Ye Peng, even though he was not a partner in the company.

CHURCH AND XTRON ARE INDEPENDENT ENTITIES, MAINTAINS KONG

The court later heard how Kong and his deputies had discussed ways for Xtron to meet its financial obligations. Mr Ong pointed to email correspondence involving Kong and his co-accused Chew Eng Han and Tan Ye Peng - in which Kong was the one who made the decision for Xtron to purchase and sell a Riverwalk Property.

Kong denied this, saying that it was Xtron director Choong Kar Weng who had made the decision. Mr Ong refuted this, saying: "All these hats, like Xtron director, Advante, Xtron, are just for show."

Kong has maintained that the church and Xtron are independent entities operating at arm's length from each other.

Earlier, Kong said that he was "disappointed" that auditor Foong Daw Ching seemed to have distanced himself from advice he had allegedly given to the accused persons about disclosing Xtron's relationship with the church to its executive members.

But the prosecution has charged that the Kong and his co-accused had not fully disclosed all the necessary information to the church's auditors. 

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