THE YEAR OF Money scandals

Church leaders accused of siphoning $50m

They held senior positions in their organisations and were entrusted with funds, some up to tens of millions of dollars. These leaders, however, hit the headlines in 2012 when they were accused of financial impropriety. Bryna Singh and Tham Yuen-C look back at the cases.

City Harvest Church founding pastor Kong Hee is no stranger to controversy.

The flamboyant 47-year-old and his pop star wife Ho Yeow Sun have made the headlines in recent years for, among other things, their lavish lifestyle.

The mega-church also raised eyebrows in March last year when it announced a $310 million investment to co-own Suntec Singapore.

Kong, however, found himself under the spotlight of the law this year. This after he and five other church leaders were arrested and charged in the middle of the year with siphoning more than $50 million in church funds.

The senior pastor and former church management board member John Lam Leng Hung, 44, each face three charges of criminal breach of trust. The church's deputy pastor Tan Ye Peng, 39, investment manager Chew Eng Han, 52, finance manager Sharon Tan, 36, and former finance manager Serina Wee, 35, face between seven and 10 charges of criminal breach of trust and falsifying accounts.

The case centres on the six leaders allegedly funnelling $24 million in church building funds to sham bond investments. This was to conceal the diversion of money to fund the career of Ms Ho, who has not been implicated.

The six also allegedly conspired to use another $26.6 million of church funds to repay the sums owed. These occurred between August 2007 and November 2009.

All have indicated they will be contesting the charges, setting the stage for what could be a long-drawn trial next year.

The cost of defending them is expected to be high, with all except Kong and Chew represented by Senior Counsel - the local equivalent of Queen's Counsel (QC), the most elite of British lawyers. Chew has asked the court to allow him to hire a QC, while Kong is defended by lawyer Edwin Tong.

Their legal bills are likely to amount to at least $1 million each.

Bryna Singh

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