City Harvest trial: Ex-finance manager stresses Xtron was independent of church

Serina Wee, former finance manager of City Harvest Church (CHC), maintained yesterday that the church did not control Xtron, the company that managed singer Sun Ho, wife of church founder Kong Hee.

She told the court she was only CHC's accountant and felt that there should be a representative of Xtron at a meeting with the church's auditors.

Wee, who was dressed in a black dress and green cardigan in court yesterday, said this was because she did not want it to seem like the church had control over Xtron.

It was Wee's third day on the stand in the long-running City Harvest trial.

Wee, 38, is one of six people accused of misusing church monies to bankroll Ms Ho's music career, and the last to take the stand. The six are charged with misusing $50 million of church funds to boost Ms Ho's music career, and then covering up the misuse. The prosecution believes that five of the accused channelled money from the church's building fund into sham bond investments in Xtron and glass manufacturer Firna.

Four of them, including Wee, then allegedly devised transactions to clear the sham bonds from the church's accounts, to mislead auditors.

Wee's lawyer, Senior Counsel Andre Maniam, had referred the court to an e-mail exchange between his client and co-accused Tan Ye Peng, in which Tan had suggested the meeting.

In the June 2009 e-mail, Tan, the church's deputy senior pastor, told Wee that he wanted concerns about a Xtron audit report highlighted to church auditor Foong Daw Ching.

"I think we should really meet Brother Foong to make our request known to him for all the points we are not comfortable about," wrote Tan. Wee had earlier sent Tan and fellow accused John Lam a draft for Xtron's 2007 audit report.

Lam raised concerns about it - including references to the church that showed "so explicitly the relationship with CHC".

The defence has repeatedly maintained that Xtron had operated independently of the church and, yesterday, Wee again stressed this.

Earlier in the day, Mr Maniam, in his examination of his client, had referred to several e-mail exchanges where church leaders asked how much money was owed to them by Indonesian tycoon and church member Wahju Hanafi.

The sum amounted to about $4 million, which Mr Hanafi had "loaned" to Ultimate Assets, a company he owned, which took over from Xtron the management of Ms Ho's music career.

Several times, Mr Maniam asked Wee who exactly was being "owed" the money.

Each time, Wee replied that this was the Crossover Project - the church vehicle which aimed to spread the Gospel through Ms Ho's music.

Wee said that as Mr Hanafi had already pledged this money to the Crossover, church leaders were merely taking "ownership" of it as part of this vehicle.

The trial continues today.

dansonc@sph.com.sg