SINGAPORE - City Harvest Church founder Kong Hee, 52, did not have anything to hide.
Rather, he had willingly and “almost religiously” consulted lawyers and auditors about a series of bond transactions made using church funds for its Crossover Project, his lawyer Edwin Tong told a three-judge panel on Thursday (Sept 15).
He also argued that Kong, who was the second of six parties to present his case, was not personally entrusted with the dominion of the funds. These were entrusted to the CHC board as a whole, and Kong alone did not have control.
Mr Tong addressed Judge of Appeal Chao Hick Tin, and Justices Woo Bih Li and Chan Seng Onn, after the trial resumed in the afternoon.
He received the heaviest sentence of eight years' jail last November, after he was found guilty of misappropriating $24 million in church funds, funnelling them into bogus investments that funded the singing career of Kong's wife, Ms Ho Yeow Sun. A further $26 million was also used to cover their tracks.
The six CHC leaders are arguing against their convictions and sentences, while the prosecution is appealing for longer deterrent sentences.
During the trial, Mr Tong said that Kong had instructed for the church’s lawyers and auditors to be consulted before investing in bonds from music production company Xtron and glass-maker Firna.
One of the key auditors consulted was Mr Foong Daw Ching, the former managing director of the church's auditing firm Baker Tilly TFW.
Even after the bonds were entered into, Kong consulted Mr Foong when there were concerns that the bonds may no tbe redeemed on time, though he was not obligated to, argued Mr Tong.
“As far as Kong Hee is concerned, he does not have a shred of paper that said his colleagues were not to give anything but the true facts to the lawyers or auditors,” he said, referring to a series of e-mail correspondence and BlackBerry messages between them.
Mr Tong argued that Kong’s overall conduct during the critical periods showed that he was transparent about their plans and sought to make sure the deals were above board.
The trial will resume on Friday with former CHC fund manager Chew Eng Han and former finance manager Sharon Tan presenting their appeals.