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The third tranche of the trial involving the six leaders of City Harvest Church resumes on Monday. Church founder Kong Hee and five of his deputies are accused of misusing millions of dollars belonging to the church, between January 2007 and October 2008.
SINGAPORE: The third tranche of the trial involving the six leaders of City Harvest Church resumes on Monday.
Church founder Kong Hee and five of his deputies are accused of misusing millions of dollars belonging to the church, between January 2007 and October 2008.
Kong Hee, John Lam, Chew Eng Han, Tan Ye Peng and Serina Wee are accused of channelling S$24 million into two companies - Xtron and PT the First National Glassware (Firna) - to boost singer Sun Ho's career.
Ultimate Assets was a third firm identified by the prosecution that was allegedly used as a financial vehicle.
Firna and Ultimate Assets are owned by Wahju Hanafi, whom the prosecution is alleging has close ties to the church.
Chew Eng Han, Tan Ye Peng, Serina Wee and Sharon Tan face a second set of charges - misappropriation of some S$26 million to cover up the first sum.
The prosecution is alleging that Kong Hee had set out the timeline of monetary transactions to be completed between the church and various companies, in order to use the funds to boost Sun Ho's career.
The order from him was said to have come in an email to Serina Wee, Tan Ye Peng and Chew Eng Han on 29 July 2008.
In the email, Kong Hee asked them to come up with a solution for the projected shortfall in the glassware firm Firna.
Firna is owned by Indonesian church member Mr Hanafi, who was a main supporter of Ms Ho's career.
The timeline also included when Xtron was to sell bonds to AMAC Capital and when Xtron was to redeem the S$13 million bonds.
AMAC is owned by Chew Eng Han, who was responsible for making church investments.
The firm is also said to have been used by the accused as a financial vehicle to commit their alleged offences.
But defence lawyer Edwin Tong argued that Kong Hee had nothing to do with the numerous Firna transactions, including its draw down details and convertibility of bonds.
Firna's owner, Mr Hanafi, testified to this.
The defence described Kong Hee’s attitude as conservative and careful when it came to budgeting his wife’s foray into the American music scene.
In an email dated 28 July 2008, Kong Hee asked co-accused Serina Wee and Tan Ye Peng to provide worst-case scenarios.
He also asked them to work out the estimates if only a third of the profit came from Ms Ho's English album.
Emails dated as early as 2006 between American music producer Justin Herz, Kong Hee and Tan Ye Peng also apparently showed their efforts in managing the budget.
But the prosecution dismissed this.
In a February 2005 email, Kong told American music producer Justin Herz to "plan as if 'the sky is the limit'", before they work out how to get funds for the project.
The trial also shed light on how Ms Ho's music career in the US was launched.
She was deemed to have huge potential.
The net profit from her first English album was estimated to surpass US$25 million with expected sales of two million copies over seven years, from 2007 to 2012.
But the court was told previously that Ms Ho's album only sold 200,000 copies.
The American producers had projected that revenue would exceed the $13 million bonds that Xtron had issued to raise funds for Ms Ho's music.
The glowing estimations meant that the singer's publicity budget was set between that of superstars Beyonce (US$17 million) and Shakira (US$12 million).
So far, the prosecution has based its case on the various financial transactions between the church, Xtron, Ultimate Assets and Firna.
It argued that these were meant to cover up the misuse of funds.
But the defence disagreed, saying auditors and lawyers had gone through them and there was nothing sinister.
For example in 2008, Firna had issued bonds to the church to raise capital.
Posing the question to Mr Hanafi, the defence said it was only logical to restructure the debts if the church wanted Firna to redeem the bonds before the stipulated three years.
Mr Hanafi agreed.
Another issue was keeping stakeholders in the dark.
The prosecution sought to show this through a chain of emails dated 12 October 2007 between three of the six accused - Chew Eng Han, Serina Wee and John Lam.
The three had allegedly discussed how they could withhold information from the church's investment committee and board members.
Chew Eng Han said he wanted to keep the investments the church is making to as small a circle as possible.
But the defence argued that the church had to be discreet about their involvement in the Crossover Project - which serves the church's mission to reach out to the secular world - for it to be successful.
The church's aim for the project was to reach out through Ms Ho's music.
Another area of contention was whether Xtron directors Choong Kar Weng and Mr Hanafi were "rubber stamps".
The court had heard how the church instructed the two on draw down amounts and dates and how church trustees were left out of the loop.
But the defence said Mr Choong and Mr Hanafi were the ones who gave the ultimate approval to matters, to which both witnesses agreed.
The role of the church's trustees also came under scrutiny.
During the 20-day hearing, the court heard Susan Ong defending Xtron as a legitimate firm.
She also testified that the trustees left decisions on church investments to Chew Eng Han, as he had the expertise.
The trial is expected to last until September this year.