City Harvest trial: Kong Hee offered to step down to minimise conflict of interest

City Harvest founder Kong Hee and his wife Ms Ho Yeow Sun arrive at the court. Kong Hee was once so concerned about the possibly bringing harm to the church that he offered to step down from its management board, said defence lawyers on Tuesday,
City Harvest founder Kong Hee and his wife Ms Ho Yeow Sun arrive at the court. Kong Hee was once so concerned about the possibly bringing harm to the church that he offered to step down from its management board, said defence lawyers on Tuesday, Sept 17, 2013, during an ongoing criminal trial into him and five of his deputies. -- ST PHOTO: WONG KWAI CHOW

City Harvest founder Kong Hee was once so concerned about possibly bringing harm to the church that he offered to step down from its management board, said defence lawyers on Tuesday during an ongoing criminal trial into him and five of his deputies.

Kong Hee expressed his concerns about a year before a series of investments were made, which the State believes were shams meant to funnel church funds illegally to wife, Ms Ho Yeow Sun's career. He asked auditor Foong Daw Ching in an email in 2006, whether Ms Ho receiving a salary from church-linked firm Xtron Productions would pose a problem. Xtron was managing Ms Ho's music career at the time.

"Sun is paid totally from non-CHC (City Harvest Church) sources... (but) I'm personally very troubled as I don't wish to bring any potential reproach to the church or its various ministry. If there is simply no way out... Sun and I are even willing to resign from the Management Board of CHC, if that would help diffuse the semblance of any conflict of interest on her part," he wrote.

Mr Edwin Tong, defence lawyer for Kong, also tried to show that Mr Foong the auditor knew more about the investments than he let on. Several of the six accused had written e-mails saying Mr Foong had endorsed or given advice about the investments, although Mr Foong insisted that these were inaccurate.

Mr Tong said it was "incredible" that the auditor did not seem to recall reading any of the emails he had been sent regarding the transactions, given that the church was a "major" client of the firm.

Mr Foong replied that City Harvest's audit team was led by another person at his firm whom he would have deferred to, and he had his own "heavy" portfolio of clients at the time.