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City Harvest trial: Prosecution says Xtron bonds were a sham

In response, church founder Kong Hee said City Harvest Church went ahead with the transaction based on projected sales of at least 1.5 million copies of Sun Ho's albums.

SINGAPORE: In the high-profile City Harvest Church trial, the prosecution sought to prove that church founder Kong Hee gave the nod for the church to invest S$13 million in Xtron bonds, despite knowing that there was no reasonable prospect of financial returns from the investment. 

The prosecution is aiming to show that the bonds were a sham, and simply a vehicle for Kong and his deputies to funnel church monies into funding the secular music career of his wife Sun Ho.

Between 2003 and 2007, Ho's Asian albums and US singles led to an almost S$10 million-dollar combined net loss for Xtron Productions, her artiste management firm. The prosecution said that to inject capital into Xtron, sponsors were approached, or the church would simply buy up her CDs as "evangelical tools".

Despite this, Kong told the church's executive members in 2007 that it was investing in Xtron bonds to maximize returns. He added that the church entered into bonds not just for investment purposes, but for the secondary purpose of funding the Crossover Project - the church's way of evangelising through secular pop music, and fronted by Ms Ho.

But the prosecution charged that the church entered into a transaction that was projected to fail, unless steps were taken to extend the maturity period for the bond. "By entering into this transaction, despite knowing that there was no reasonable prospect of returns, you entered into a sham transaction," said Deputy Public Prosecutor Christopher Ong.

ALBUM SALES

Emails revealed that several of the accused persons knew that projected revenue from the sale of 200,000 copies of Ms Ho's albums would not be enough to repay the bond on its two-year maturity date. In fact, it would take 10 years to repay the bond. Nevertheless, they went ahead with the transaction. The bond was later re-issued, and the maturity period extended, under an amended bond subscription agreement. 

The prosecution also charged that the auditor for the church and Xtron, Mr Sim Guan Seng, never knew about the circumstances surrounding the first Xtron bond transaction. "Don't you agree that if the church had entered into a bond which was known to be not repayable upon maturity, and that would require some kind of rolling over - that this is something that the auditors ought to have been told about?" asked Mr Ong.

Kong said he did not recall being told this, and that the church went ahead with the transaction based on projected sales of at least 1.5 million albums. He said that the church's former finance manager Serina Wee had just been "conservative" in her estimate of the 200,000 album sales. "As far as my state of mind was concerned, when the Xtron bond was executed, even though I didn't know the two-year maturity date, I had no problem believing that by the end of 2008, Xtron would be able to have commercial returns enough to pay off loans and have a net profit," he added.

KONG 'NOT SKILLED WITH FINANCIAL INSTRUMENTS'?

Kong said he left it to several of his deputies to resolve any issues before the church entered into the first bond transaction with Xtron, and one reason he did so was because he was not skilled in financial instruments.

When asked by the prosecution how it was possible that his deputies would have entered into the transaction without telling him that the bonds could not be repaid on time, Kong said: "I told them check with the lawyers, auditors, and check with the management board. And it's consistent with this idea that I left it to them to solve whatever problems that they needed to solve, and, if they cannot solve it, they would highlight to me or alert me." He added that no one had raised any red flags to him during the relevant period.

Earlier, the prosecution sought to prove that the church's fund manager AMAC Capital Partners, which was set up by co-accused Chew Eng Han, was just a tool for the church to carry out the sham transactions. It pointed to an email Kong wrote to the chuch's deputy senior pastor Tan Ye Peng, in which he wanted to offer salaries to Chew and his wife after Chew left his banking job to set up AMAC.

Kong wrote: "Can he (Chew) look for another job when he is helping us with AMAC? If he can't, in a sense, we do owe him his livelihood." Kong denied this, saying he was just trying to offer help as he was concerned that Chew was facing a "financial crunch" at the time.