Charities watchdog moves to oust eight City Harvest leaders

THE Commissioner of Charities (COC) has launched a bid to remove eight leaders of City Harvest Church, including its founder Kong Hee, from office.

It comes after they were suspended by the COC last year following an inquiry which revealed there was mismanagement of funds at the church - in particular at least $23 million that was used to fund the music career of Kong's wife Ho Yeow Sun.

The eight are: board member Kong Hee, board chairman and trustee Lam Leng Hung, vice- chairman and trustee Tan Ye Peng, executive director of the church's administration division Kelvin Teo Meng How, and executive members Sharon Tan Shao Yuen, Chew Eng Han, Jacqueline Tan Su Pheng and Serina Wee Gek Yin.

If the COC is successful in removing them - which it can do only with the consent of the Attorney-General - the four key officers will no longer be allowed to hold any office positions in City Harvest Church or any other charities for life.

They are, however, allowed to continue with their religious duties.

The COC did not propose to remove Ms Ho, whose suspension will lapse in August, as there was insufficient evidence to prove she was responsible for or privy to what happened.

Six of them - Kong, Lam, Tan Ye Peng, Sharon Tan, Chew and Wee - are also facing criminal proceedings for allegedly embezzling more than $50 million from their parish. Their trial starts on May 15.

Commissioner of Charities Low Puk Yeong emphasised that his action is independent and separate from the trial, and that he was acting to protect the church's estimated $103 million assets.

"This is not against the charity and has nothing to do with religion or religious practices," he said.

The COC's inquiry came after it received complaints in 2010 about the alleged misuse of church funds.

It said it found money was used to finance Ms Ho's music career under the guise of donations to its affiliated church in Kuala Lumpur.

Donations and tithes were also transferred into a private fund of which $3.6 million was supposedly used on Kong and Ms Ho.

Last December, the COC asked the nine suspended members to voluntarily extend their suspensions until six months after the end of the trial because suspensions cannot exceed 12 months.

But by last month, only five had said "yes". Since there was no collective agreement and with the suspension period due to run out in June, the COC had to proceed to the next stage of the process, which was to remove them.

It has given notice to the eight that it plans to remove them and they are allowed to make representations by May 13. Members of the public can also make representations on the COC's proposal to remove Kong, Lam, Tan Ye Peng and Mr Teo, who are governing board members or key office-holders of the church.

If anyone objects to the removal after representations have been made, they can appeal to the High Court.

When contacted, Kong said he is confident that there is "no basis for the COC's actions and I will in due course make the appropriate representations to the COC".

Chew also said he plans to make representations.

"I do not feel that I have mismanaged the property or finances of the church to warrant this action being taken against me."

dawntan@sph.com.sg