Church founder Kong Hee, second from left, and his wife Sun Ho arrive for a court hearing last year. Pic: AP.

Six leaders of a Singaporean megachurch have a case to answer for funding the music career of the founder’s wife, a Singapore court ruled on Monday. Kong Hee and five of his senior staff members of the City Harvest Church have been accused of misappropriating SGD24 million (USD$19.2m) of church building funds to fund the singing career of his wife Sun Ho and another SGD26 million to cover up the loss of the first sum. Sun has not been charged.

The City Harvest Church has approximately 20,000 worshippers and 35 affiliate churches in 8 countries.

The case goes back to 2010.

In March of 2010, Kong and his team announced the purchase of a stake in the Suntec City Convention Centre at the cost of SGD 310 million. The move sparked controversy as City Harvest Church is registered as a charity and hence was not taxable. The church clarified that the stake was bought through a holding company wholly subsidiary to the church.

In May 2010, the Commissioner of Charities (COC) and the Commercial Affairs Department (CAD) called up 18 members of the church hierarchy to assist in a probe on the church on allegations of misuse of funds. The case was brought by ordinary church member Simon Teoh, who by the church’s constitution had “no right to attend General Meetings”. He asked the COC to “find ways to promote more accountability and transparency to its members”.

In June 2012, the CAD arrested Kong, four other senior church leaders and a former financial director on charges of criminal breach of trust. According to a statement later released by the COC, the “Charity issued press statements and made several representations to its members to state that they had not funded Sun Ho’s music career…  Despite the representations made by the Charity and unknown to the Executive Members, the Charity’s funds were used to fund the project.” Over SGD 23 million was used over three years. The COC noted that “the Executive members were not told of the actual purpose of the use of these funds.” It then suspended eight members from the church’s governing board.

Sun’s persona in her first music video was a Geisha. A Geisha is a traditional Japanese entertainer. According to the church’s website, the project’s objective is to “reach out to the unchurched, especially the youth, through the world of arts and entertainment”. For the duration Sun, who lives in a Sentosa Cove penthouse house worth SGD 9.6 million in Singapore, stayed in a SGD28,000 a month Hollywood apartment.  One of Sun’s projects was the music video China Wine, made together with Wyclef Jean. In the music video, Sun is seen gyrating sensually to lyrics such as

Wyclef boss blame and grind it up

Cause the way she move she’s hard to touch

Never seen something look so fine ah!

Right from Jamaica straight to China

When the girl dirty wine ah!

And are there that her design yea

Hips don’t lie it’s makes you find out

Wonder if she’s from Savana she from Jamaica, China

I would like to find out

The project was generally poorly received in Singapore.

On the church’s website, it explained that “the demure Taiwanese [Sun] had cultivated would not work for the US music market… the creation of a persona is part and parcel of the music and movie industry… they do not represent the actual character or values of the actor or singer.” It cited Bono and Carrie Underwood as other performers who used personas at some point.

Months later, youth leaders from the church released a music video called “The Greatest Place” ostensibly in support of Kong and the other leaders.

In the song, Kong is described as a “world changer”, “history maker”, the “greatest man I have ever known” and the “greatest man I would ever know”.

Trials in May 2013 opened with many church members rallying around the church. Almost all of the accused hired Senior Counsels (the equivalent of Queens Counsel in the UK), while Kong’s lawyer was a Member of Parliament. The prosecution had accused the church leadership of using the funds for false purposes, also claiming that the church leaders had sold an unused asset to another company XTron and agreed to buy back the same asset for about the same price so as to misrepresent the number of transactions occurring on a given day.

A little under two months later, on June 21, one of the accused, Chew Eng Han wrote on his personal blog about his departure from the church: “Those who know me better will understand what I’ve been seeing and tolerating – wrongful labelling, quick to take credit and to pass the buck, betrayal, slander, ingratitude, denial and lies, manipulation and control, greed, pride, hypocrisy, abuse of authority, practice of [favouritism] and different standards.”

On Monday Judge See said that “there is evidence that the relevant accused persons all intended that loss should be caused to CHC… it would appear that [they] knew that they were not legally entitled to do so.” The judge also determined that the evidence produced in court had demonstrated that evidence was withheld from the auditors of the church.

Judge See’s decision on Monday indicates that the prosecution had built a case against the six that warranted defence and had thrown out City Harvests’ no case to answer appeal.

Kong once said in a sermon that, “there are always two sides to a story, and I look forward [to] the day when I can tell my side of the story in court… I do maintain my integrity”. He will have to testify in court together with his five other colleagues.

In a statement to church members, executive pastor Aries Zulkarnain asked the congregation to “trust that God will protect and guide them as they give their testimony on the stand in the coming months, and we pray that in all circumstances the Lord shall be glorified.”

The trial will resume on July 14.