Singapore pastor found guilty of using church funds for wife’s music career
Thursday, 22 October 2015 - 10:01
Leaders of a Christian church in Singapore who misappropriated £23m of church funds in a failed attempt to turn the pastor’s wife into a global pop star to attract more followers have been convicted of fraud after a two-year trial.
The charismatic pastor Kong Hee and five aides spent some of the money on glitzy music videos featuring scantily clad dancers to support his wife Sun Ho’s singing career in Asia and try to crack the US market.
Kong and Ho founded the City Harvest church (CHC) in 1989. Ho was marketed as “the singing pastor” in Asia, and released several singles. She worked on an album with the rapper Wyclef Jean and appeared in a 2007 music video with him, but international success eluded her, the court heard.
Kong, 47, and five others were found guilty of diverting Sg$24m (£11m) to finance Ho’s career and move to Hollywood and misappropriating another Sg$26m to cover their tracks. Ho, 43, was not charged.
Dozens of church members packed into the courtroom, many having queued overnight to get a seat, and sat in stunned silence as the guilty verdict was read out.
Kong and one other church leader were convicted of criminal breach of trust. The other four, including the church accountants, were convicted of varying counts of criminal breach of trust and falsification of accounts. Criminal breach of trust carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison.
The six used a practice called “round-tripping” – channelling money allotted for a building fund and investments into sham bonds in linked companies — and falsified church accounts to make it appear as though the bonds had been redeemed.
“The accused persons chose to engage in covert operations and conspiratorial cover-ups. They contrived to create cover stories and clever round-trips concealing their unlawful conduct,” said the judge, See Kee Oon. There was “no evidence of any wrongful gain” by the accused, but See stressed that this was not an issue. All six were released on bail until sentencing, with Kong’s bail set at Sg$1m.
The pastor and his wife led the expansion of their congregation to more than 17,500 members. The CHC modelled itself on similar US churches that link wealth to Christianity, encouraging large donations and conducting slick services preaching “prosperity gospel”.
Singapore is predominantly Buddhist and Taoist, but some local Christian churches have amassed large fortunes thanks to the city-state’s affluent population.