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We gave love gifts as they needed to survive

Convicted CHC fund manager says Kong Hee misled closest supporters into donating

He was the loyal follower who rose quickly through the ranks at City Harvest Church (CHC).

But after Chew Eng Han and five others from the church, including founder Kong Hee, were arrested, that loyalty counted for nothing.

Chew grilled Kong Hee in court during the trial, singling out the former pastor for the mess they were in.

In a two-hour interview with The New Paper on Nov 12, Chew blamed vanity for Kong's persistence in pursuing his wife's pop-star ambitions.

Chew said he left CHC in 2013 partly because of how Kong and his wife Ho Yeow Sun had misled a small group of donors who had been supporting the livelihood of the couple.

He added that Kong did so by showing the donors "false accounts".

The money was channelled to a multi-purpose account (MPA), a trust fund that comprised personal donations - called "love gifts" - from about 40 of Kong's closest supporters, court proceedings showed.

The MPA was used by Kong Hee and Ms Ho, whose stage name was Sun Ho, for their personal expenses including travel, medical bills, hair and make-up.

Chew and his wife had donated "hundreds of thousands" in love gifts to the MPA from 2007 to 2009.

They gave to the MPA because Kong and Ms Ho were "labouring for the Lord" and had announced they had taken themselves off the CHC payroll in 2005.

"They need to survive. That's what we think. No salary, poor thing. Let's donate love gifts."

They had no idea what the money was used on, or who else contributed to it, as Kong and his subordinates did not reveal the full accounts for the monies from 2007 to 2009 to the donors.

The donors had no issue because the money was meant for the couple anyway, said Chew.

TURNING POINT

In 2010, Kong Hee held a meeting for all the MPA donors for the first time and presented a spreadsheet showing the fund was in deficit.

Said Chew: "He wanted more money... So he gives us an impression that the collection from us is not enough to cover the expenses.

"Then, he gave us a form to write down how much more we think we can increase our gifts in the coming year. The aim was to try to prod us to achieve a certain targeted amount."

Later investigations showed Ms Ho and Kong had been withdrawing more than $400,000 per year from the MPA as part of Ms Ho's salary, royalties and bonuses for her music career.

This was not told to the MPA donors during the meeting, as Kong admitted in court that CHC had a practice of keeping its members' income confidential.

Chew said: "We had no clue before that first MPA meeting in 2010 that he had been collecting (more than) a million dollars.

"It was emotional (when he showed us the MPA was in deficit). It was like, 'Poor Pastor Kong, he's got (a lot of) expenses because he is involved in the Crossover Project'."

He said the Commercial Affairs Department questioned fellow accused Serina Wee on why she kept two separate spreadsheets on the MPA cashflow, one to show to MPA donors and another showing Sun Ho was paid monies from the account.

Chew said: "She (Wee) said it was because Sun's salary is very sensitive. But it should not be sensitive to the 50 of us because we already intended to give to her (Ms Ho) anyway."

Chew quit the church in February 2013 after 18 years. (See report, above.)

He said that ordinary church members who donated to the church, the Building Fund and the Crossover Project had sacrificed their own well-being in the process.

He recalled a story of a CHC member who donated "a lot" of his earnings to the building fund.

Said Chew: "He came in early to the office to eat biscuits and save money. The office biscuits.

"So, my friend (who was his employer) asked him, why are you eating biscuits every morning? He said it was so he could sacrifice and give more to the fund."

Chew said he personally donated about $600,000 to the Building Fund and to Sun Ho's artiste management company, Xtron Productions, according to court proceedings.

He said: "These people are all living difficult lives, you know? Even for myself, for all the earnings I have given, I could have saved or multiplied it for my own children.

"I hardly have anything now, because I believed in this vision, in serving God."

Kong and Ms Ho did not reply to repeated requests for comment.

These people are all living difficult lives, you know? Even for myself, for all the earnings I have given, I could have saved or multiplied it for my own children.

- Chew Eng Han on the sacrifices of ordinary church members in giving to to the church, the Building Fund and the Crossover Project.

'I'm spending so much, could you give a bit more?'

Chew Eng Han questioned the medical expenses that Kong Hee and his wife Ho Yeow Sun chalked up.

According to court documents, the couple spent around $140,000 in 2007 and around $180,000 in 2008 and 2009 on medical bills.

"(The issue was) Kong and Sun living it up, but when they presented the MPA (to us), they made it seem like they are so sacrificial and are having a hard time," said Chew.

Former CHC member Jean Jacques Lavigne said the way the MPA was dealt with was problematic for him.

He left the church in 2013 after being a member for 15 years. By then, he had already donated a "five-figure sum" to support Kong, believing it had gone into the MPA.

This was on top of his regular tithes and donations to the church and the building fund.

Said Mr Lavigne, a CEO of a superyacht firm: "When he comes to the givers, he would say, 'Oh, you are so good to me, dear MPA givers, this is how much you gave me. But I'm spending so much. Could you give a bit more?' So, people give a bit more."

But Mr Lavigne did not know that Ms Ho had been drawing out around $400,000 as royalties, bonuses and salaries every year. He found out only when Chew told him about it.

Kong, Chew fuelled each other's drive: Judge

Kong Hee had exploited Chew Eng Han, said State Courts presiding judge See Kee Oon in his written judgment last month.

"Eng Han's forceful personality, coupled with his determination and drive to achieve his objectives, was recognised and exploited by Kong Hee," said Judge See.

"They tapped on and fuelled each other's drive, one as a spiritual leader and the other as a finance expert."

But Chew had his failings too.

The judge found that Chew expected no losses from using the building fund to fund the Crossover Project because he thought "everything in City Harvest that was done, succeeded".

"That is surely a bold and sweeping exaggeration that gives the lie to the extravagant overconfidence that characterised his conduct and mindset," he said.

Chew first joined City Harvest Church (CHC) in December 1995 after he was introduced to the church by his nephew.

He converted to Christianity that day and rose through the ranks.

He started as a cell group leader in 1997 and became a CHC board member in April 1999.

DEDICATED

Chew, 55, said: "(Kong Hee) picked me because I was very dedicated to the church. A very hard-working labourer for God."

Chew was also the head of State Street Bank then.

"He probably chose me as well because at that time, there were not many professionals working in the church (who were) earning so much money.

"I never felt attracted to the position. To me, it was just a chance to serve even more effectively."

The church's congregation size rose dramatically between 1995 and 1997, he says.

When he joined in 1995, there were just 1,300 members.

That number doubled the following year before increasing to 5,000 in 1997.

"At that time, we were still good. I think it was the presence of God (and) the pure worship. This was 1996, 1997, 1998.

"These three years, the atmosphere was pure. The staff were all very hard-working and dedicated to the Kingdom," he said.

Chew went on to become a key figure in the church's hunt for new worship premises and the structuring of the Xtron and Firna bonds.