City Harvest trial: Kong Hee apologises to church members for 'pain and turmoil' they have endured

The Straits Times, Singapore/October 24, 2015

By Ng Huiwen

Singapore -- Standing alone under the bright lights of a sleek stage on Saturday (Oct 24), City Harvest Church (CHC) founder Kong Hee faced a packed auditorium in Suntec Convention Centre, took a deep bow, and said: "Pastor is sorry."

The 51-year-old apologised for the "pain and turmoil" members of his church had to endure over the last few years, and bowed three more times in different directions, before the congregation stood and applauded and cheered for a good length of time.

He was speaking at the church's first service since he and five other church leaders were found guilty on Oct 21 of misusing around $50 million of church monies to fund his wife's pop music career and then to cover the misdeeds. They will find out their sentences on Nov 20 at the earliest.

The Saturday evening service was held at the sixth level of the convention centre and began with the congregation passionately singing songs of worship. Around 40 minutes later, Kong Hee took the stage.

The others involved in the court case, bar former CHC investment manager Chew Eng Han who had quit the church, were in attendance, sitting in the front rows.

As the youthful crowd of churchgoers listened intently, Kong said that the church's future was secure, "because of you and the new leadership that has been put in place".

"Out of the ashes, we will rise," he went on.

Executive pastor Aries Zulkarnain later went on stage. He said that while he was "saddened" by the verdict, he respected the Judge See Kee Oon's decision.

As excerpts of the judge's written grounds flashed on the screens, Mr Zulkarnain explained parts of it to the congregation.

When he claimed that the judge had acknowledged that the six accused had been motivated by love for the church, applause erupted once again. He also described how the church would improve its governance as it moves forward with a new "CHC 2.0" vision.

These would involve selecting well-diversified board members, appointing a legal firm to advise the board, setting up an internal compliance team and also carrying out an annual audit using an outsourced firm.

As Mr Zulkarnain led the church in prayer, former CHC finance manager Serina Wee, one of those found guilty, was shown sobbing on a big screen.

For an hour, American pastor A. R. Bernard gave a sermon on keeping trust in the face of tribulations.

Kong and his wife Ho Yeow Sun took to the stage to close the ceremony with a song. Said Ms Ho, the church's executive director: "Thank you for being here, for being courageous and supportive. Thank you for your love, it has made a difference for all of us and our family members. Thank you, thank you, thank you."

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