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Feng Zeng Kun
Saturday, Aug 16, 2014

Crime

City Harvest founder 'kept seeking professional advice'

The Straits Times | Feng Zeng Kun | Saturday, Aug 16, 2014

City Harvest Church founder Kong Hee, on the stand.

OVER and over again yesterday, Kong Hee's lawyer presented the City Harvest Church founder with a series of e-mail and Blackberry messages to show the court one thing.

That throughout the controversial Crossover Project and the way it was funded, Kong and the other accused had sought to get assurance from lawyers and auditors before carrying out any deal.

For instance, lawyer Edwin Tong highlighted meetings the defendants had set up with auditor Foong Daw Ching, whose firm had handled City Harvest's accounts, and asked his client: "Did you have anything to hide from him?"

The 49-year-old pastor replied: "If I had committed fraud, corruption and forgery, why would I want to see him? I would want to stay away from him."

Kong and five others face various charges for their part in allegedly misusing around $50 million of church funds to boost his wife Ho Yeow Sun's pop music career as part of the Crossover Project, and then to cover it all up.

The project, the defence says, was meant to attract non-Christians through pop music and then spread the Gospel among them.

This included breaking into the US music scene by producing an English album, giving the church a launch pad to reach out internationally.

Asked whether he would put the church's interest before the US album's success, Kong said: "I will always put the church first."

He also pressed the point that he did his part in keeping the album's budget reasonable, including replacing "hit maker" Wyclef Jean when he asked for too much money to help make the album.

In 2007, City Harvest loaned money to the company managing Ms Ho's career at the time, Xtron Productions, to finance her US debut album indirectly.

The prosecution alleges that this was done to hide the misuse of the church's building fund for her pop career.

Kong, who was taking the stand for the third day, admitted that he preferred to keep the financial transactions between City Harvest and Xtron secret.

"I want to share as little as possible... but it must always be within the boundaries of the law as advised by our professionals."

He did not explain why he preferred secrecy, but another defendant, former church board member John Lam Leng Hung, had given a possible reason earlier in the trial.

It was not to hide anything illicit but to ensure that any success by Ms Ho would be considered hers and not dismissed as having been down to the church's efforts.

zengkun@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on August 14, 2014.
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