Kong Hee 'had wide-ranging control over church-linked firms'

He was listed as ‘invisible’ in Xtron’s management structure, prosecution’s documents show

Today, Singapore/August 23, 2014

By Neo Chai Chin

Singapore -- His control over church-linked entities ranged from salary issues to multi-million-dollar property transactions, prosecutors cross-examining City Harvest Church founder Kong Hee argued yesterday.

Building its case of criminal breach of trust against Kong, the prosecution produced a string of documents showing that he apparently had the final say in the key decisions of entities that he has insisted were separate from the church.

One of these entities was Xtron Productions, which managed the pop music career of Kong’s wife Ho Yeow Sun and was the vehicle the church used to acquire property.

Kong and five fellow church leaders standing trial are accused of using S$13 million of church-building funds to buy sham bonds from Xtron, which prosecutors contend was controlled by the church, to fund Ms Ho’s career.

The accused persons allegedly used S$11 million more on sham bonds from another company, then misused another S$26.6 million to cover up the first sum.

In the minutes of an October 2008 meeting between Xtron employees and senior church staff Suraj, Kong was listed as “invisible” in the management structure of Xtron, while Mr Suraj was called a “ghost director”. Xtron’s official directors at the time were church members Choong Kar Weng and Koh Siow Ngea.

Questioned on this, Kong, who turns 50 today, said he was the “invisible patron of many of the organisations because of their love and honour for me as their pastor”.

In another email produced by prosecutors in court yesterday, Kong had in 2010 instructed co-accused Sharon Tan not to let salary costs of the church and organisations such as City College and Xtron exceed 32.7 per cent of total net income.

He told Deputy Public Prosecutor (DPP) Christopher Ong that it was part of scenario planning to help him sleep better at night, in case a cataclysmic event occurred and staff of these entities needed to return to the church’s employment.

Branding Kong’s explanations as “fabrications”, DPP Ong said: “All these emails really show that your control of Xtron and even (co-accused Serina Wee’s accounting firm) Advante extended to deciding on issues of salary and manpower policies.”

Kong disagreed.

He also denied exercising authority in a May 2010 discussion over BlackBerry with co-accused Chew Eng Han and Tan Ye Peng, when he said to sell as soon as possible the RiverWalk property the church had acquired through Xtron.

Kong said he was merely excited to be able to solve a problem for Xtron, but that its directors had had the ultimate say.

DPP Ong also sought to show yesterday that Advante was set up in 2007 to handle Xtron’s accounts, because the church was about to buy bonds from Xtron and the accused persons had wanted to create the perception that the company was separate from the church.

Kong denied this, saying Advante was the result of Wee’s “visions and dreams” to run her own firm and that she had wanted to improve corporate governance.

He also told the court that he was “greatly disappointed” by auditor Foong Daw Ching, whose firm Baker Tilly had audited the church’s accounts. Kong said Mr Foong, as a prosecution witness last year, seemed to have distanced himself from church transactions that he had known about, such as the Xtron bonds.

Asked if he felt Mr Foong was lying, Kong said the auditor could have forgotten or tried not to remember “out of the pressure and fear of being in court”.

The prosecution continues to cross-examine Kong next week.

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