City Harvest trial: Not all church projects are for profit, says defence lawyers

Defence lawyers for the six accused City Harvest leaders, including Kong Hee (in photo), say not every investment made by charities such as churches need to yield profit, adding that investments may be to further social objectives. -- ST PHOTO: WONG
Defence lawyers for the six accused City Harvest leaders, including Kong Hee (in photo), say not every investment made by charities such as churches need to yield profit, adding that investments may be to further social objectives. -- ST PHOTO: WONG KWAI CHOW

Not every investment made by charities such as churches need to yield profit. Sometimes these investments may be to further social objectives. Defence lawyers for the six accused City Harvest leaders said this in court on Friday during an on-going trial.

City Harvest Church founder Kong Hee and five of his deputies are accused of criminal breach of trust. They are alleged to have funnelled $24 million meant for the church's new building into sham bond investments in church-linked firms Firna and Xtron Productions. Prosecutors say City Harvest accounts were then falsified to the tune of $26.6 million so the bonds appeared to have been "redeemed".

Defence lawyers said that in the same way the National Kidney Foundation, for example, invests in dialysis machines even though these depreciate in value, City Harvest invested in its Crossover Project to convert people to Christianity. The Crossover Project Crossover Project started in 2001 with the aim of using co-founder Ho Yeow Sun's secular music to evangelise.

In fact, auditor Foong Daw Ching had no objections to the use of City Harvest funds to finance Ms Ho's music albums as this furthered the church's evangelism mission, claimed Mr Michael Khoo, lawyer for former church investment manager Chew Eng Han. This approval supposedly came in a meeting in 2003 between Mr Foong and church leaders, shortly after a special audit was done following allegations that church funds were improperly used to finance Ms Ho's career. Mr Foong, however, said he could not recall this meeting.