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City Harvest trial: Kong 'did not care' about recovering church loan

He allowed loan of money for wife's pop career but didn't track repayment: DPP

Published on Aug 28, 2014 6:58 AM
 
Kong said Xtron directors had the final say on the overall budget for Ms Ho's planned US debut album.

When $300,000 was needed for, among other things, a party in the upmarket Hamptons area in New York to promote his wife's music career, City Harvest founder Kong Hee gave the go ahead.

But when it came to keeping tabs on how to repay the church loan that helped pay for it, Kong admitted in court yesterday that he lacked full knowledge.

He did not, for instance, realise Xtron Productions, which managed his wife Ho Yeow Sun's pop career, had just two years to repay the $13 million it borrowed from the church.

He also did not know that his deputy John Lam Leng Hung, the church's then investment committee chairman, failed to vet the loan to ensure the church's interests were protected.

All this showed how little Kong cared about how the church would get its money back, even as he was planning to spend it on his wife's singing career, Deputy Public Prosecutor Christopher Ong said yesterday.

"Let me be clear," said Mr Ong. "You didn't care about having to repay (the money)."

Lam had called a meeting to assess if amending the loan's terms would enable the church to recover its money only almost a year after the loan was finalised, when auditors started asking questions, said Mr Ong.

He added that the meeting's minutes were then backdated to make it seem as if the due diligence was done before the auditors raised their concerns.

Mr Ong also argued Kong was in control of Xtron.

Kong said none of this was true, and that he trusted his deputies to do the right things.

He said: "I trust my team. I trust John and that he wouldn't do anything deceptive... I don't believe he would do anything to deceive the auditor."

Kong, Lam and four others face various charges for their part in allegedly misusing some $50 million of church funds to boost Ms Ho's career, and then covering up the alleged misuse.

Kong said while he was only generally aware of the terms for the $13 million loan, he relied on others more involved in the transaction to alert him to any problems.

He denied he was in charge of Xtron, insisting its directors had the final say on the overall budget for Ms Ho's planned United States debut album, which the church loan had helped finance.

For his part, he said he had been careful in his budgeting of the album. Relying on projections that it would sell at least 1.5 million copies, he believed Xtron would eventually be able to repay the church. "At the end of the day, there was always recoverability intended, genuine recoverability that was projected by top professionals from America," Kong said.

Another key reason for his confidence, he said, was the guarantee given by long-time church member and Indonesian businessman Wahju Hanafi to underwrite losses from the church's Crossover Project, which used Ms Ho's secular music to evangelise.

Kong said Mr Hanafi gave him a verbal guarantee in 2002, and then put it in writing in 2010.

But Mr Ong argued that the verbal agreement was not included in the Xtron bond contract, or in the minutes of the meeting to discuss the loan. He also produced e-mail to show that Mr Hanafi himself faced financial trouble during the loan period.

But Kong said he was not concerned by this: Like "most millionaires I have met, (Mr Hanafi) is asset-rich and cash-poor... in my limited exposure to millionaires".

zengkun@sph.com.sg

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