City Harvest trial: Transactions were because church wanted to buy Suntec property

City Harvest founder Kong Hee (above), who, along with five of his deputies, was charged last year with misusing about $50 million of church funds. Church leaders wanted to buy a stake in Suntec City and had recalled the church's investment
City Harvest founder Kong Hee (above), who, along with five of his deputies, was charged last year with misusing about $50 million of church funds. Church leaders wanted to buy a stake in Suntec City and had recalled the church's investment money and loans to raise funds. -- ST PHOTO: LIM SIN THAI

City Harvest church leaders wanted to buy a stake in Suntec City and had recalled the church's investment money and loans to raise funds.

The transactions involved were legal and in some cases even "common" in the business world. That was the explanation put up on Friday by defence lawyers, who were giving a more prosaic take on financial deals which the State believes were used to conceal a misuse of church funds.

Three prominent law firms including Singapore's Drew & Napier and Rajah & Tann had also drafted these and other allegedly suspect transactions and found nothing wrong with them, the defence argued.

City Harvest founder Kong Hee and five of his deputies were charged last year with misusing about $50 million of church funds, partly through the buying of alleged sham bonds.

A prosecution witness had said earlier that former church investment manager Chew Eng Han, one of the accused, told him that the church's auditors had grown "uncomfortable" with the bonds. Chew then proposed a plan to "restructure" these bonds.

But defence lawyer N. Sreenivasan noted that at the time, City Harvest was in talks to purchase the Suntec stake, and suggested that the various transactions that followed was to finance this.

He also noted that in the end, the church and its investment manager AMAC Capital Partners' bond monies and were paid back with interest in full, so they had not suffered any losses as a result of the transactions.