City Harvest trial

Both senior pastors 'are liars and lack credibility'

Church founder Kong Hee (above) and Tan Ye Peng, both pastors, maintain that they acted on the advice of experts, including auditors, lawyers and church investment officers, for decisions on the bonds.
Church founder Kong Hee (above) and Tan Ye Peng, both pastors, maintain that they acted on the advice of experts, including auditors, lawyers and church investment officers, for decisions on the bonds.ST PHOTOS: ONG WEE JIN
Church founder Kong Hee (left) and Tan Ye Peng, both pastors, maintain that they acted on the advice of experts, including auditors, lawyers and church investment officers, for decisions on the bonds.
Church founder Kong Hee and Tan Ye Peng(above), both pastors, maintain that they acted on the advice of experts, including auditors, lawyers and church investment officers, for decisions on the bonds.ST PHOTOS: ONG WEE JIN

The men, who claim they acted on advice, are not naive, says DPP in closing submissions

The two most senior leaders of City Harvest Church (CHC) are liars and men without credibility, said Deputy Public Prosecutor Mavis Chionh yesterday as she highlighted the contradictions in evidence given by pastors Kong Hee and Tan Ye Peng.

In her closing oral submissions for the long-running trial, Ms Chionh slammed each of the six co-accused's efforts to distance themselves from the alleged crime.

Kong, 50; Tan, 42; and four others are accused of misappropriating $24 million in CHC's building funds through sham bond investments in music production firm Xtron and glass maker Firna, and of misusing a further $26 million to cover it up.

Also facing charges are former finance managers Serina Wee, 38; and Sharon Tan, 39; and former investment committee members Chew Eng Han, 54; and John Lam, 47. The bonds were used to bankroll pop singer Ho Yeow Sun's music career.

CHC wanted to use Ms Ho's music to spread the Gospel through what they called the Crossover Project. Ms Ho is Kong's wife.

A DETAILS MAN

Far from being a mere figurehead... (Kong) was a meticulous and details-oriented leader whose express approval was needed before the bonds could go ahead.

MS MAVIS CHIONH, Deputy Public Prosecutor, on Kong Hee's defence

Calling Kong a "well-practised liar" with an "utter lack of credibility", Ms Chionh told the court to reject his testimony.

Kong has maintained that he had been acting on the advice of auditors and lawyers as far as the sham bonds were concerned.

"Far from being a mere figurehead... (Kong) was a meticulous and details-oriented leader whose express approval was needed before the bonds could go ahead," said Ms Chionh.

Kong's deputy, Tan, has taken a similar defence. He has told the court that he relied on "advice and blessing" given by auditors and fellow co-accused Chew.

The implicit message was that Tan was a naive man dependent on others to make decisions and was incapable of exercising his own judgment, said Ms Chionh.

"But what this claim entirely neglects is the reality that, at the relevant time, Tan Ye Peng's authority was second only to Kong Hee's in the management of the Crossover," she added.

Ms Chionh also took aim at Sharon Tan's assertions that she too was a "naive church employee", noting that she had helped deceive auditors by altering minutes of church board meetings.

She rubbished the defence's claim that this was a mere failure of corporate governance arising from ignorance. This was absurd, given the sophistication and scale of the church's operations, she said.

"CHC was not some struggling new voluntary outfit run by bumbling amateurs with no experience of the financial world," she said .

She noted too that Lam was the group's "inside man in the church's governance and oversight bodies, preventing these bodies from discovering the sham nature of the bonds". Lam was on the church board and investment committee.

The prosecution also blasted Wee's defence, calling it superficial and a bare denial in the face of the evidence.

Wee's lawyer had said last week that his client acted with "no dishonest intent" and believed the bonds were not a sham.

Ms Chionh, however, said: "(Wee) was arguably the most inextricably involved in all the sham bond and the round-tripping transactions because of the nature of her role as the Crossover administrator."

She also accused Chew of being inconsistent in his defence, adding that his argument in his written submissions that the bonds were investments in Ms Ho's album project was indicative that they were a sham - because they were not investments in the two companies.

Two defence lawyers also responded yesterday.

Lam's lawyer, Senior Counsel Kenneth Tan, said his client had nothing to gain by being a "saboteur" in the committees he was in.

"That's simply incompatible with the Bible, with God and with common sense," said Mr Tan.

Senior Counsel Edwin Tong, who is acting for Kong, also noted that "every single cent" drawn from the bonds went into the Crossover and there was no personal gain by Kong or any of the accused.

The rest of the defence will respond today as the case heads into its final chapter and 140th day.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 15, 2015, with the headline 'Both senior pastors 'are liars and lack credibility''. Print Edition | Subscribe