Friday, June 29, 2012

Church defends pastor, officers over US$19m fraud

A SINGAPORE-based Christian church rocked by a massive financial scandal has stood by its founder and four aides who could face life imprisonment for allegedly misusing the congregation's funds.

Pastor Kong Hee, 47, founder of the City Harvest Church, and four officers were charged on Wednesday with varying degrees of involvement in a scheme to siphon off Sg$24 million (RM59.94 million) to finance his wife's singing career.

In addition, more than Sg$26 million in church money was allegedly misappropriated to cover up the original diversion.

In a statement posted on its website late Thursday, the church denied any wrongdoing by the five, who are out on bail while on trial.

"It has been suggested that the church has been cheated of Sg$50 million. This is not accurate," executive pastor Aries Zulkarnain said in the statement.

"The Sg$24 million, which went to investment bonds, was returned to the church in full, with interest. We didn't lose the $24 million, nor did we lose 'another $26.6m' as alleged," he added.

"The church did not lose any funds in the relevant transactions, and no personal profit was gained by the individuals concerned."

Zulkarnian, a co-founder of the group, said Kong will continue preaching at the church, which has a membership of more than 30,000 and assets estimated at more than Sg$100 million in 2009.

Meanwhile, the accused pastor's wife, who goes by the name Sun Ho in the entertainment industry, has been widely ridiculed by Singaporeans who dismissed her claims of using music to foster the church's evangelical mission.

Now believed to be in her early 40s, she based herself in Hollywood while trying to break into the international music industry.

Videos of Sun Ho's song and dance numbers on YouTube — many featuring her in skimpy clothing and dancing provocatively — have become overnight sensations since the scandal broke, but for the wrong reasons.

Ho's previously obscure music video "Mr Bill", where she plays an Asian wife who calls herself a "geisha" and sings about killing her black husband, had been viewed more than 150,000 times by Friday morning.

"Isn't 'thou shalt not kill' one of the ten commandments?" a YouTube viewer commented on the video-sharing site.

Kong and his wife became minor celebrities in Singapore after launching the church, which has affiliates in neighbouring Malaysia and other countries.

The church is known for services that resemble pop concerts.

Singapore authorities have cracked down on heads of charities found to have been involved in irregularities.

In 2009, a prominent Buddhist monk was jailed for six months for misappropriating hospital funds and lying about it to authorities.

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