Thursday, 22 October 2015

6 Singapore church leaders found guilty of fraud over pastor's wife's failed S$50m music career

City Harvest Church founder Kong Hee (R) and his wife Sun Ho arrive at the State Courts in Singapore
VIDEO: A Sun Ho music video, featuring Wyclef Jean
A video from an English-language single, "China Wine", shows her dancing intimately with rapper Wyclef Jean, sparking criticism that she had betrayed her calling as a Christian pastor.

Six religious leaders in Singapore who used $50 million in church funds in a failed bid to turn the pastor's glamorous wife into a global pop star have been convicted of fraud.

Top left to right: former finance manager Serina Wee, founder Kong Hee, former finance manager Sharon Tan. Bottom left to right: , deputy senior pastor Tan Ye Peng, former treasurer John Lam, and former fund manager Chew Eng Han. Photo: Reuters

After a two-year trial that captivated Singapore with tales of lavish spending and financial deceit, pastor Kong Hee and five aides were found guilty of diverting $Sg24 million ($24 million) to finance his wife Sun Ho's music career, which was portrayed as a religious mission.

The six were also found guilty of misappropriating another $Sg26m from City Harvest Church to cover their tracks, prosecutors said.

Ms Ho, who starred in a music video with rapper Wyclef Jean, was not charged.

The church said Ms Ho's music could be used to attract followers.

On Wednesday, Judge See Kee Oon found the accused guilty of criminal breach of trust or falsification of accounts, or both.

The maximum penalty for criminal breach of trust, which all six were convicted of, is life imprisonment, according to the penal code.

The six were granted bail before their sentencing date, which has not yet been set.

The glamorous couple fell from grace after the leaders were charged in 2013 and the court was told how church funds were spent on music videos, marketing and a luxurious lifestyle

Prosecutors said Kong and his subordinates engaged in a practice called "round-tripping" by channelling money allotted for a church building fund into sham bonds in linked companies so they could finance Ms Ho's music career.

They falsified church accounts to make it appear the bonds were redeemed, prosecutors said. - AFP


Singapore megachurch leaders hit a sour note in pop music fraud case

SINGAPORE (Reuters) - The co-founder of a Singapore church and five other leaders were convicted of multi-million dollar fraud on Wednesday for diverting money to support his wife's pop singing career, a rare fall from grace in the tightly regulated city-state.

The mix of money, faith and scandal in the case has fascinated the public in affluent Singapore, where such cases are rare under a system with little tolerance for corruption.

Senior pastor Kong Hee heads City Harvest Church, one of a growing number of Singapore's megachurches preaching "prosperity gospel" that blends spiritual and material aspirations. (http://reut.rs/1LCxhXr)

The churches have ambitions to turn Singapore into a centre for evangelical Christianity and to export their faith to the world. Kong was arrested and charged in 2012 with criminal breach of trust and falsifying accounts.

The six church officials were convicted of diverting nearly S$51 million (£23.97 million) in funds to advance the career of Kong's wife, Ho Yeow Sun.

"There is no doubt that they had something to hide ... They knew they were acting dishonestly," Judge See Kee Oon said in convicting the six in the Singapore subordinate court.

Ho has focused on the Mandarin pop market and has released albums, including "Embrace", through Warner Music Taiwan.

A video from an English-language single, "China Wine", shows her dancing intimately with rapper Wyclef Jean, sparking criticism that she had betrayed her calling as a Christian pastor.

Ho, the co-founder and executive director of the church, was not charged in the case.

The church, which had around 17,000 members last year, has stuck by its leader. It held a prayer session for Kong and others on Tuesday night and Ho issued a message of support after the court ruling.

"Thank you for your unwavering faithfulness in loving God and loving one another. More than ever before, let’s have a unity that is unbreakable," she said on the church website.

(Reporting by Rujun Shen; Writing by Rodney Joyce; Editing by Paul Tait)


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