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Kong Hee wanted to distance financing of Sun Ho's music career from church

In court on Thursday, the founder of City Harvest Church said he did not want his wife's secular music career to be linked to the church, as this could have jeopardised the success of the Crossover Project and the church's outreach efforts in China.

SINGAPORE: Prosecutors have pointed out that City Harvest Church founder Kong Hee had, until 2010, concealed from the church's executive members the real reason why Xtron Productions was incorporated.

Kong admitted it was to distance the financing of his wife Sun Ho's secular music career from the church. This was just one example of Kong being reluctant to fully disclose information - whether to auditors, lawyers, or even church members.

The prosecution said that Kong had earlier given two other versions of why Xtron had been incorporated as a media and events management company, and later as an entity to own and manage the church's future buildings. Neither version mentioned that Xtron would be managing Ms Ho or producing her albums.

The court heard that this was only made known in an email to Indonesian businessman and long-time church devotee Wahju Hanafi - who was being invited to become a director of Xtron. Mr Hanafi was told that Xtron was being incorporated as an independent company to handle all the income and expenses related to Ms Ho's third album.

Kong admitted he could have been "more specific" about Xtron's role in the Crossover Project - which is the church's way of evangelising through Ms Ho's secular pop music. He said he had been "selective" about disclosing information, because he did not want Ms Ho to be linked to the church as a gospel singer. He said this could jeopardise the success of the project and the church's outreach efforts in China: "If she was a gospel singer, getting a permit to even perform in China in those days may not be possible.”

Kong and his five deputies are standing trial for allegedly using the church's building fund monies to buy sham bonds in Xtron and another church-linked firm to bankroll Ms Ho's music career.

"I prefer to share as little as possible, unless I'm legally obligated to do it," he said, when the prosecution directed him to an email where some of the co-accused persons discussed the degree to which the bond transactions would be disclosed to auditors from Ernst & Young. The then-Ministry of Community Development, Youth, and Sports had tasked Ernst & Young to do a governance review of various charities, which included City Harvest Church.

Kong defended the bond transactions vigorously, saying they were genuine investments meant to generate maximum returns for the church's building fund. However, he added that they had an important secondary purpose - to fulfil the church's missions in the form of the Crossover Project.

The prosecution charged that this, too, was never made clear to the church's executive members (EMs). Deputy Public Prosecutor Christopher Ong said: "In 2007 and 2008, and even in 2010, when the EMs were told about the investment of the Building Fund, they were never told that some of the investments of the church Building Fund had a purpose other than getting returns...you are lying when you say that the bonds were for dual purposes, that is, to maximise returns as well as to serve some other purpose.”

Kong and his deputies have maintained that Xtron and the church were independent entities operating at arm's length. But Mr Ong pointed to emails as he sought to prove that Kong's co-accused had also discussed the kind of picture they wanted to present to auditors and church members at an Annual General Meeting, which would ensure that they would be able to avoid a situation where Xtron's accounts were consolidated with the church's.

The prosecution continues its cross-examination of Kong on Friday (Aug 22).

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