SINGAPORE: The founder of City Harvest Church was released from jail on Thursday (Aug 22) after doing time for his role in misusing millions of church funds, a day ahead of his 55th birthday.
The pastor walked free from Changi Prison in the late morning, looking thinner and sporting a cap on his shorn hair, about two years and four months after surrendering himself at the State Courts to begin his jail term.
Inmates typically serve two-thirds of their sentences before being released on remission.
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A small group had gathered outside the prison to wait for him minutes before his release.
When asked by CNA if he had anything to say, he shook his head and smiled before swiftly entering a black vehicle waiting for him.
City Harvest Church on its website announced Mr Kong's release, saying that he "spent most of his time seeking and studying the things of God".
"Pastor thanks you all for your unceasing prayers these last few years, for him and for his family," said the church's board and senior management team.
"Your letters brought him comfort and joy."
The church added that Mr Kong will be "taking a period to spend time with his family, especially his elderly parents".
"Please do continue to keep him, Sun, Dayan and his parents in prayer," the statement added.
READ: Disappointment, but sense of closure for City Harvest Church members after appeal verdict
Mr Kong was sentenced to three-and-a-half years' jail, the longest term meted out to six church leaders for their involvement in misappropriating S$50 million in church funds.
This sentence had been reduced from eight years’ jail upon appeal, along with the rest of his co-accused who had their terms shortened.
The other five are: Former deputy senior pastor Tan Ye Peng, former finance managers Serina Wee and Sharon Tan, former finance committee member John Lam and former fund manager Chew Eng Han.
The six of them were convicted in 2015 after a trial spanning 140 days and were originally sentenced to between 21 months and eight years' jail, terms that were later reduced significantly upon appeal.
READ: Why judges ruled to reduce the jail terms of City Harvest Church leaders
The case was unprecedented in two ways: First, it was the largest case of misuse of charitable funds in Singapore to date, and second, because the millions were “replaced” through a series of sham investments and shady transactions, with the church ultimately suffering no financial loss.
About S$24 million was used to bankroll the secular music career of Mr Kong’s wife Sun Ho and her lifestyle, while the remaining S$26 million was used to cover up the first amount to fool auditors and to conceal the unauthorised use of the money from the church's building fund.
Mr Kong began serving his sentence on Apr 21, 2017, along with four of his co-accused. In his last message on social media before surrendering at the State Courts, he said he had reflected deeply and was at peace with what was ahead.
He said then that he was “extremely saddened” by the prospect of having to leave his family and church, but was ready to face what was to come “with the peace and grace of God in my heart”.
READ: Government believes City Harvest sentences too low, will look at amending law: Shanmugam
Ms Sharon Tan was first to complete her seven-month jail term, followed by Mr Lam, who received one-and-a-half years' jail; Ms Wee, who was given two-and-a-half-years' jail; and Mr Tan Ye Peng, who was sentenced to three years and two months in prison.
Chew was the last to begin his prison sentence of three years and four months.
However, a day before he was set to enter prison, he tried to flee the country on a sampan and was given an additional 13 months' jail. He will be the last of the six involved to finish his sentence.