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City Harvest trial: Sun Ho's US album release scuppered by investigations, says Kong Hee

Publicity plans included proposed appearances on shows like Gossip Girl and CSI, as well as magazines including Vogue and Marie Claire, church founder tells court.

SINGAPORE: Money and effort spent on Sun Ho's debut English album went down the drain after investigations by the Commercial Affairs Department (CAD) scuppered plans for its release. That's according to City Harvest Church founder Kong Hee - Ms Ho's husband, and one of six church leaders on trial for alleged misuse of church funds.

Kong told the court on Thursday (Aug 14) that the album was slated for release in the United States on Aug 17, 2010. Her team in America had laid out publicity plans to tie in with her album release. This included pitches to appear on popular television shows such as Gossip Girl, Dancing With the Stars and CSI: New York, as well as features in magazines including Vogue and Marie Claire. She was also supposed to embark on a radio tour, meant to kick off in New York City. 

The album release had already been waylaid once - when Ho became critically ill and had to undergo two surgeries for abdominal adhesions, Kong said. After investigations into the church's alleged financial irregularities began in May 2010, the album was never released. Authorities ordered Ms Ho back to Singapore to assist in the investigations, and impounded her passport.

"All the work and money put in over the years (went) down the drain," Kong said. "There was no possibility of any recoverability (of the costs)." Ms Ho's secular pop music career was part of the church's project to evangelise and reach out to non-Christians, and Kong said the scuppered plans meant Indonesian businessman Wahju Hanafi and his family, who were all church members and had pledged support for the project, had to step in and help make good the losses.

The church leaders are accused of misusing millions in church funds to buy sham bonds in two church-linked firms, in order to fund Ms Ho's secular pop music career. One of these firms is Xtron, her former artiste management firm.

Kong went as far as to say that the church and Xtron had a symbiotic relationship and shared a common vision. However, he emphasised that both were independent entities, and Xtron directors would have to apply independent thinking to decisions that concerned the needs of the church.

Kong reiterated his stand that he had always instructed his team to run the church's transactions by lawyers and auditors before proceeding with them. He maintained that this was also done for the bond transactions involved in the charges, and he was assured that all the transactions were legal.

However, the court heard that in the course of CAD investigations, Kong had met two of the church's lawyers together with his co-accused. At this meeting, which took place on Jun 1, 2010, lawyers told him he had been "negligent and done wrong, and that he should just tell the truth". This left him "shaken to the core", Kong said, and insisted he had always relied on professionals to advise him and the church.

Kong will be cross-examined by his co-accused and the church's former investment manager, Chew Eng Han, on Friday (Aug 15).

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