The Straits Times
Published on Aug 22, 2014

City Harvest trial: Kong was 'invisible' manager at Xtron, which also had 'ghost' director


SINGAPORE - City Harvest founder Kong Hee claimed that his wife Ho Yeow Sun's artist management firm Xtron Productions was independent from the church. Yet he was listed as an "invisible" manager in the firm, while the church's chief operations officer Suraj was its "ghost" director.

These revelations came to light when the prosecution produced in court on Thursday the minutes of a 2008 Xtron meeting where Kong and Suraj had been given the respective titles.

The prosecution believes that Xtron was nothing more than a shell company controlled by Kong and his deputies to enable the misuse of church funds. In 2007, a year before the Xtron meeting, City Harvest had invested $13 million in Xtron bonds, which the prosecution says were "shams" to misuse the church's building fund for Ms Ho's career.

Deputy Public Prosecutor Christopher Ong pointed to the Xtron meeting minutes to disprove Kong's claim that Xtron was independent from the church. He also pointed to a Blackberry message in 2008 where fellow defendant Serina Wee, Xtron's accountant at the time, had said that Suraj was "managing (Xtron) incognito".

Asked about the documents, Kong said he had never seen the Xtron minutes before. He added that as City Harvest's founder and senior pastor, he was an "invisible patron" to many organisations and Xtron could be another instance.

He added that he knew Suraj was involved in some capacity at Xtron, but was not aware of the details until Wee's message. According to Kong, he knew Suraj was a "mentor" to some Xtron employees as they were former colleagues at the church.

Kong also noted that Wee had explained in another message that it would not be out of place for Suraj to be installed at Xtron to protect City Harvest's interests, since the church was a major client of Xtron. "This explanation is palatable to me," said Kong.

Earlier in the day, Kong admitted that he had kept City Harvest's investment in Xtron from church members during a 2008 general meeting of the executive members. But he said this was to "protect the church", since information given to the members "very quickly goes into the public domain".

If the public knew that Ms Ho's career was being financed by the church, Kong said, she would be labelled as a gospel singer. This would affect the church's mission work - which used her secular music career to evangelise - in countries like China that frowned on public preaching, he said.

Kong added that the members had approved of the bonds in 2010 when they were told, even though the church was under heavy scrutiny then due to the authorities' investigations into financial irregularities. "I'm sure if I had told the members (earlier) they would gladly support it," he said.