City Harvest disputes '$50 million cheating charges'

Church stands by its 5 leaders who were charged

City Harvest Church on Thursday night disputed allegations that its leaders had conspired to cheat the church of $50 million.

In a strongly worded statement, it maintained that it did not lose any funds and no personal profit was gained by those involved in the transactions.

Executive pastor Aries Zulkarnain, 39, said: 'It has been suggested that the church has been cheated of $50 million.

'This is not accurate. The $24 million, which went to investment bonds, was returned to the church in full, with interest. We didn't lose the $24 million, nor did we lose 'another $26.6 million' as alleged.'

He added: 'The church did not lose any funds in the relevant transactions, and no personal profit was gained by the individuals concerned.'

When asked to respond to the church's statement, a spokesman for the Attorney-General's Chambers said on Thursday night: 'We wish to reiterate that as criminal charges are now before the court and will be subject to adjudication by the court; and that as such, neither the prosecution nor any other party should comment on issues which will be subject to adjudication and on which evidence will be led in court.'

Similarly, the police, responding to the same statement, said: 'Generally, in law, the offence of criminal breach of trust of monies is established once there is misappropriation of the monies with the requisite intent, regardless of whether there have or have not been subsequent attempts at restitution by the accused.'

On Wednesday, City Harvest's founding pastor Kong Hee, 47, and four others were charged with conspiring to cheat the church to finance the music career of Kong's wife, Ms Ho Yeow Sun.

Court documents allege that $26.6 million of church funds was used to cover up an initial $24 million, which had been taken from the church's building fund and put into sham bond investments.

These investments, in turn, were allegedly used to further the music career of Ms Ho, 42, popularly known as Sun Ho.

Kong and the others were charged with varying counts of criminal breach of trust as an agent. His deputy, Tan Ye Peng, 39, finance manager Sharon Tan Shao Yuen, 36, and investment manager Chew Eng Han, 52, were also accused of falsifying the church's accounts.

Church management board member John Lam Leng Hung, 44, was the fifth person charged and, like the rest, will return to court on July 25.

In the church's statement on Thursday night, Mr Zulkarnain also said that the church 'stands with' the members involved.

He said Kong remains the church's senior pastor, and that the Commissioner of Charities (COC) has confirmed that Kong and his deputy Tan can continue to preach at the church.

Speaking on behalf of the church's board, Mr Bobby Chaw, the pastor in charge of missions, said that City Harvest had, over the last two years, taken action to comply with the code of governance set out by the Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports (MCYS).

Half of the board were replaced with new members, for instance.

Mr Chaw added that RSM Chio Lim - an accounting and business advisory firm - had been engaged to do a full internal audit.

'We have been putting their recommendations into action, and will continue to do so. We appreciate the need to maintain good corporate governance, and we are continually working with MCYS to do so,' he said.

He expressed disappointment with some of the media coverage, particularly in relation to reports following Tuesday's statement on the COC inquiry into the church.

'In some instances, they seem to have pre-judged us. We will be dealing with this in due course,' he said.

Mr Chaw said he was also surprised that the COC had, on the same day, suspended eight church members - including the five charged and Ms Ho - without prior notice.

'We have been cooperating with COC for two years since the start of the case, so these sudden suspensions came as a surprise to us,' he said of the probe.

The statement added that the church's Crossover Project was 'not about one person's singing career', but 'a mission that is fundamental' to the congregation.

Started a decade ago, the Crossover Project's intention was to use Ms Ho's secular music to extend the church's reach.

Support for the church leaders and the project continued online among the congregation, even as other commentators posted scathing remarks.

limze@sph.com.sg

Additional reporting by Ng Kai Ling