City Harvest Church’s main building in Jurong West
29 June 2012. In one of the biggest church scandals in Singapore, City Harvest Church’s founder Kong Hee and four others were charged on Wednesday with allegedly siphoning church money. It was found that a sham investment amounting to $24 million was made out of the church’s building fund. Subsequently a further $ 26 million investment was made to cover up the initial scam investment. These investments were made allegedly to finance the music career of Kong’s wife HoYeow Sun.
City Harvest Church founder Kong Hee turned up at the Subordinate Courts on June 27 2012 holding his wife Sun Ho’s hand.
The Commissioner of Charities revealed that financial irregularities amounting to at least $23 million had been discovered and eight church members, including the five, had been suspended.
The court documents showed that this alleged conspiracy was carried out through bond investments in two companies.These were Ms Ho’s artist management firm Xtron Productions, and PT The First National Glassware, also called Firna and owned by a church member. Investment of $13 million was made in Xtron bonds and $11 million in Firma bonds. A further $26 million was used to redeem these bonds. This ’round-tripping’ meant that more of City Harvest’s building fund cash was used to repay the sums owed to itself.
The $26.6 million cover-up bid came about after the church’s auditor had raised questions about the purported bond investments.
The four others charged are: John Lam Leng Hung, 44, Kong’s deputy Tan Ye Peng, 39; church finance manager Sharon Tan Shao Yuen, 36; and investment manager Chew Eng Han, 52.
The City Harvest case pales in comparison, the $12 million that the National Kidney Foundation sued Mr T. T. Durai and three others for, and the $50,000 unauthorised loan Ren Ci hospital’s Ming Yi was jailed for.
A City Harvest Church (CHC) member, Christopher Pang, has written to Acting Minister for Community Development, Youth and Sports Chan Chun Sing, alleging that the Commissioner of Charities’ (COC) statement on the charity is defamatory.
Pang, an executive member of the church, took issue with how the inquiry revealed “misconduct and mismanagement” in the church’s administration, and added that the COC should apologise for the statement that was released on Tuesday (26 June 2012).
Mr Aries Zulkarnain, the executive pastor and a founding member of the church since its start 23 years ago, says that the church stands with the members involved.
“The people currently in the news are our pastors and trusted staff and leaders who have always put God and CHC first. As a church we stand with them and I believe fully in their integrity. Pastor Kong is still our Senior Pastor.”
Mr Zulkarnain says that COC has confirmed that Mr Kong Hee, the senior pastor, and Mr Tan Ye Peng, the deputy senior pastor will continue to preach at the church.
With regard to the allegations, Mr Zulkarnain says, “It has been suggested that the church has been cheated of S$50 million. This is not accurate. The S$24 million, which went to investment bonds, was returned to the church in full, with interest. We didn’t lose the S$24 million, nor did we lose ‘another S$26.6m’ as alleged. The church did not lose any funds in the relevant transactions, and no personal profit was gained by the individuals concerned.”
Speaking on behalf of the Board, Bobby Chaw, the pastor in charge of missions at CHC, says that actions had been taken the past two years in accordance with the MCYS’ code of governance. He said that the church replaced one-half of the boar members, appointed RSM Chio Lim to do a full internal audit and hid we have been putting their recommendations into action The church will maintain good corporate governance, and is continuously working with MCYS to do so.
However, Mr Chaw expresses his disappointment with some of the media’s coverage so far, particularly in relation to the COC inquiry. “In some instances, they seem to have pre-judged us. We will be dealing with this in due course,” he says.
He adds that the church was also surprised that COC chose to implement the suspensions of the members involved without prior notice. “We have been co-operating with COC for two years since the start of the case, so these sudden suspensions came as a surprise to us.”
The church’s Advisory Pastor, Rev Dr Phil Pringle is in Singapore to stand with CHC. He is the senior pastor of C3 Church, Sydney, and the C3 Global Network of Churches. Dr Pringle expresses his support for the leadership.
“I have known City Harvest Church, Kong, Sun and Ye Peng for a long time. CHC is not just a local church in Singapore. It has 49 affiliated churches and 6 Bible schools all across Asia. It has impact on international ground, and it has proven through many years that it serves the global community, both spiritually and practically through humanitarian works.”
Dr Pringle says he, along with CHC’s Advisory Chairman Dr A R Bernard, who is the senior pastor of Christian Cultural Center in Brooklyn, New York, fully believe in and endorse the church’s Crossover Project as a mission to reach the world.
The church states that the Crossover Project is not about one person’s singing career; it is a mission that is fundamental to the congregation of CHC. The Crossover Project is an outreach that uses Sun Ho’s singing and music to engage people and places that would never otherwise hear the Gospel. As a result of the Crossover Project, many churches have grown worldwide and the faith of many has been strengthened. Impact has been made on the needy in Haiti, disaster victims in China, the depressed and suicidal in Taiwan, and the sick children in Honduras, among others.
Mr Roland Poon had been going to City Harvest for a few years when he began to feel uncomfortable with some of the church’s practices, said a report in The Straits Times. In 2003, he had to make a public apology after questioning whether City Harvest Church used church funds for Ho Yeow Sun’s music career. Mr Poon also asked the church leadership how church funds were being used.
When Mr Poon’s questions to the church were not answered, he wrote to The Straits Times, saying it was not ethical to mix secular matters and religion – he added that he was “encouraged” to buy Ho’s music, and alleged that church funds were used to finance Ho’s publicity campaigns.