City Harvest Scandal: It'll be over by next year, Kong tells churchgoers

Pastor reassures followers in wake of COC bid to remove him from office

City Harvest Church founding pastor Kong Hee rallied his congregation during the weekend's church services, telling them that by next year, "everything should be all over".

This was the first time that he had spoken to churchgoers since the Commissioner of Charities (COC) said last Tuesday that it is acting to remove him and seven church leaders from office over multimillion-dollar corruption allegations.

Its bid to oust them is the latest setback that City Harvest - with over 19,800 active followers - has suffered since Kong was among around a dozen of its leaders questioned after complaints about church finances in 2010.

Yesterday, he assured his congregation: "You've been holding on for three years. One more year. One more year and it will be all over."

Addressing parishioners who packed the Singapore Expo Hall 1 for two services over the weekend, Kong, 47, said he is preparing representations. "And yes, I do maintain my integrity," he added, as the crowd roared in approval. As he went on stage to deliver his sermon, churchgoers also gave Kong a standing ovation.

Also present at the services yesterday and last Saturday evening was his wife Ho Yeow Sun, 42.

When The Straits Times dropped in on the two services, many young churchgoers were spotted displaying banners declaring their trust in the church's leaders. More than 10 banners were raised throughout the service.

Kong and his seven colleagues were suspended by the COC last year following an inquiry that revealed mismanagement of funds at the church - in particular at least $23 million, allegedly used to fund the music career of Ms Ho.

The eight are: board member Kong, 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.

Once removed, four of them - because they are governing board members, trustees or key officers - will be banned from holding office in the church or any other charity for life. At the same time, six of them - Kong, Lam, Tan Ye Peng, Sharon Tan, Chew and Wee - were charged with embezzling over $50 million from their parish. Their trial starts on May 15.

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.

Referring to his wife, Kong told churchgoers that his lawyers believed the fact that her suspension will lapse could be "a sign of greater things to come".

While his reassurance drew huge applause and cheers from the crowd, Kong also sought to temper their optimism.

"While I don't know what is going to happen one year from now, I don't know will I still be standing here, but (from) the way you clap, I better be standing here."

Other segments during the service also addressed the news of the COC's intention to remove leaders and the upcoming trial.

For example, a video compilation was aired of pastors from churches in countries such as the United States, Australia and South Korea addressing Kong and his wife and encouraging the church and its leadership.

Two couples also shared their personal experiences and testimonies of Kong and the church leaders, and pledged their faith.

They said the leaders were there for them in their time of need. The couples ended their speeches by stating that they will be making representations on the COC's proposal.

Churchgoers told The Straits Times they were surprised by news of the decision to remove their leaders. Housewife Tricia Sim, 40, said: "We will continue to support and pray for them."

Mr Alvin Lee, 33, a manager in the security industry, said: "He (Kong) has contributed to much of the success of the church. As with any organisation, it will be a great loss if key leaders are missing from the church.

"I understand the COC has a role to play, but we hope this will clear up soon."