SINGAPORE - City Harvest Church founder Kong Hee was released from jail on Thursday (Aug 22) after serving time for his role in misusing millions of dollars in church funds.
In a statement on the church's website, its board and senior management said that Mr Kong will be "taking a period to spend time with his family, especially his elderly parents".
While in jail, he spent most of his time seeking and studying the things of God, the statement said.
Mr Kong also thanked church members for all their prayers for him and his family.
"Your letters brought him comfort and joy," said the statement, which also urged members to continue to keep Mr Kong, his wife Ho Yeow Sun, son Dayan, and parents in their prayers.
Mr Kong's release comes one day before he turns 55.
His sentence was the longest among six church leaders who were involved in misappropriating $50 million in church funds, in the largest case of misuse of charity funds in Singapore's history.
His sentence had been reduced from eight years' jail to 3½ years upon appeal.
Mr Kong was released about two years and four months after he began his jail term. Inmates are usually given one-third remission on their sentence for good behaviour.
Besides Mr Kong, the rest of the leaders also had their terms shortened.
The other five are: Former deputy senior pastor Tan Ye Peng, former finance managers Serina Wee and Sharon Tan, former finance committee member John Lam and former fund manager Chew Eng Han.
The six of them were originally charged and convicted of criminal breach of trust as agents under Section 409 of the Penal Code in 2015 after a 140-day trial.
They were handed jail terms ranging from 21 months to eight years.
Four of the other five leaders - Ms Tan, Mr Lam, Ms Wee and Mr Tan - have been released from jail.
They were given jail terms of seven months; 1½ years; 2½ years and three years and two months respectively.
Chew Eng Han was sentenced to three years and four months in prison.
However, his jail term was extended by 13 months after he tried to flee the country. He will be the last to complete his sentence.
In 2017, the Commissioner of Charities (COC) permanently barred Mr Kong and the five other leaders from holding management positions in City Harvest Church or any other charity. This is to protect the church’s assets.
The Commissioner also prohibited City Harvest Church from hiring the six without his approval.
In July this year, The Sunday Times reported that City Harvest Church collected $29 million in donations last year, marking a near 40 per cent drop from the $47 million it raised from November 2016 to December 2017.
It had about 16,000 church members last year and was among the top 10 richest charities by donations here.