City Harvest trial: Auditor 'trying to hide ties with church leaders'

(Top) Lawyer Edwin Tong (foreground), seen here with his client Kong Hee and Kong's wife Ho Yeow Sun, crossed swords with auditor Foong Daw Ching (above) on the witness stand yesterday.
(Top) Lawyer Edwin Tong (foreground), seen here with his client Kong Hee and Kong's wife Ho Yeow Sun, crossed swords with auditor Foong Daw Ching (above) on the witness stand yesterday.ST PHOTOS: AZIZ HUSSIN
(Top) Lawyer Edwin Tong (foreground), seen here with his client Kong Hee and Kong's wife Ho Yeow Sun, crossed swords with auditor Foong Daw Ching (above) on the witness stand yesterday.
(Top) Lawyer Edwin Tong (foreground), seen here with his client Kong Hee and Kong's wife Ho Yeow Sun, crossed swords with auditor Foong Daw Ching (above) on the witness stand yesterday.ST PHOTOS: AZIZ HUSSIN

Defence says witness gave detailed advice on investments to the accused

Sparks flew in court yesterday as the defence team for City Harvest Church leaders sought to prove auditor Foong Daw Ching was an unreliable and untruthful witness.

It tried to show that, contrary to his earlier claims, Mr Foong had a close relationship with the City Harvest leaders, which involved him giving detailed advice on investments and how to disclose them to church members.

Mr Foong, a partner with Baker Tilly TFW, fought back saying the defence was twisting his words.

Last week, he said he had given only "general" advice to the accused and never interfered with church audits which had been carried out by various Baker Tilly employees assigned to the job over the years.

Mr Foong, 63, is testifying in the case of six City Harvest leaders accused of illegally funnelling money from the church to fund Ms Ho Yeow Sun's singing career and covering it up with a series of sham investments.

But yesterday, Mr Edwin Tong, who represents City Harvest's founder Kong Hee, accused Mr Foong of being untruthful in his testimony, and said that he had, in fact, given instructions to staff on the church's audits.

He showed a series of e-mail messages from October 2007, in which an auditor expressed concern that donations to the church building fund were instead being used to pay for the rental of Singapore Expo for worship services.

Mr Foong, however, replied that the "building fund can be used for this purpose" as long as the church's board of directors agreed it was a temporary measure.

Mr Tong used this to accuse Mr Foong of "overriding" the auditor's views.

"The truth of the matter is that you are trying to distance yourself from the advice you have given to City Harvest and its staff... and you are doing that to cover up the fact that you not only personally oversaw but you advised directly... and that you controlled the views taken by Baker Tilly in relation to City Harvest," he said.

Mr Foong, who appeared visibly angry, retorted several times that he did not agree with Mr Tong's assertions.

He said Mr Tong was painting "an incomplete picture" and at one point in the cross-examination, he snapped: "Hello, hello, hello... don't put words in my mouth, learned counsel."

Mr Tong then grilled Mr Foong on his earlier testimony that he lacked sufficient knowledge to have given in-depth financial and auditing advice to City Harvest leaders.

Mr Foong had previously said he was not good with technical details and did not like reading financial agreements.

But the defence countered that Mr Foong has a "fairly sterling CV" with more than 35 years of auditing experience in Singapore and England. He had also appeared in court in Singapore several times over the past decade as an expert witness.

Mr Tong cited one example of how Mr Foong had prepared net worth reports of an individual in a legal dispute between a married couple between 2000 and 2001.

To do this, Mr Foong would have had to know valuation guidelines in accordance with national auditing standards, he said.

Mr Foong replied that when he serves as an expert witness, he is usually assisted by a group of people where he is "fed" the technical background.

He maintained he is "the weakest among the partners, as far as (knowledge of) financial instruments is concerned".

The trial continues today.

twong@sph.com.sg

melodyz@sph.com.sg