I've made mistakes, says CHC founder Kong Hee in surprise 'confession letter'
It was a surprise plea that read like a personal confession.
I will shoulder the blame. I admit I have erred. Please forgive me.
City Harvest Church (CHC) founder Kong Hee wrote: "I pray that the authorities will be merciful to me, in view of my years of service to my church, our society and to lives in need locally as well as internationally."
Kong's admission of his "mistakes" in the letter was presented to the court yesterday. It took many, including the prosecution, by surprise. The letter was allegedly penned in June 2010.
Kong, who took the stand on Aug 11, was expected to step down yesterday following the conclusion of re-examination by his lawyer, Mr Edwin Tong.
But the unexpected reference of the 12-page "confession letter" by Mr Tong prompted the prosecution and co-accused Chew Eng Han to ask to cross-examine Kong again.
Kong, Chew and four other CHC leaders are on trial for misusing more than $50 million of church funds.
Some of the money was allegedly used to fund the music career of singer Sun Ho, who is married to Kong, through "sham bonds" invested into two companies - Xtron Productions and Firna.
Kong and his accused were arrested on May 31, 2010.
Four days later, Kong allegedly wrote the "confession letter" after the first round of questioning by the Commercial Affairs Department (CAD).
He claimed he did so because he was urged by CHC's lawyer, Mr Jimmy Yim, to "come clean".
So he said he decided to write his thoughts while in Mr Yim's office.
In the letter, Kong outlined the background of CHC and its mission to evangelise the unchurched through the Crossover Project.
He also included details of his wife and singer Sun Ho's music career and figures of the church's transactions.
He concluded by pleading for leniency as he had recognised his failures and mistakes.
"The fallout from my negligence and mistakes is already tragic enough for my family," he wrote.
Kong said he then passed the letter to Mr Yim, and had left it to him to decide whether to submit it to the authorities.
But former CHC fund manager Chew, who left the church last year, questioned the authenticity of the letter and asked to see the source and date of creation of the letter.
"It doesn't look like a letter to me. It looks like a well-prepared statement," he said.
Chew, who is representing himself after discharging his lawyer in May, also questioned Kong on how he was able to recount and produce 12 pages of details in a short space of "six to eight hours", given that Kong "was in a state of shock" then.
Kong said he had relied on his church staff and the other co-accused, including Serina Wee, Tan Ye Peng and Sharon Tan, to provide the details.
"I wrote this on my own, but, for example, when it came to the figures of information concerning the City Harvest community services, I would give a call to make sure that I get all the facts correct.
"We have a lot of records, a lot of documentation that we keep in the office. Six to eight hours, we should be able to gather all the information," Kong said.
Chew also pointed out that Kong had wrote that he had known about the Xtron and Firna bonds right from the beginning.
"Then how was it that on subsequent CAD sessions... you told the CAD you only knew about Xtron bonds during the EGM (extraordinary general meeting) and you had no strong impression of the Firna bonds?
"It seems like (on) June 3... you had such clear memory. Five days later...this thing about Xtron and Firna bonds suddenly became fuzzy again," Chew said.
Said Kong: "I was very open to tell (CAD) I have knowledge of the CHC-Firna bonds. But subsequently, there were a lot of confusion, could be on my part or could be on the CAD IO (investigating officer).
"Sometimes when the questions was being asked, I get confused myself."
Chew then told him: "It's either... this confession letter was fabricated or you lied during the CAD statement."
Deputy Public Prosecutor Christopher Ong also probed Kong on the accuracy of the letter, and said there were "a few facts missing from the document".
For example, in the letter, Kong wrote that Xtron was incorporated because Indonesian tycoon Wahju Hanafi and his family needed a company to manage Ho.
But Mr Ong stressed that Kong did not mention this at any point during trial.
Instead, Kong had said Xtron was meant to distance Ho from the church.
Said Mr Ong: "I suggest to you that this letter is just a further development of the cover story that you and some of your co-accused were trying to prepare to give to the authorities, and that it wasn't really a true 'coming clean'."
Kong said he disagreed, and added that he had worked on the letter till late that night and had no intention to mislead or lie.
"With the benefit of hindsight, I could have come even cleaner. I think I tried to come clean, but perhaps not squeaky clean enough for the DPP."
Presiding Judge of the State Courts See Kee Oon also asked Kong whether he accepted that there were gaps or imprecisions in the letter.
Said Kong: "Your Honour, I learnt one thing going through this trial: That precision is such an important thing in life, so with the benefit of hindsight, I should have been more precise."
The trial continues today, with CHC finance manager Sharon Tan expected to take the stand.