City Harvest accused: Sun Ho's singing success was fake
Ms Ho Yeow Sun's success as a singer was central to everything he believed in, former City Harvest Church (CHC) fund manager Chew Eng Han told the court yesterday.
Testifying in his defence, Chew said that when bloggers attacked Ms Ho's abilities as a singer in 2010, he kept faith in the singer-pastor and even considered hiring private investigators to track down the bloggers.
He also believed that investing in her artiste management company, Xtron Productions, would yield good returns, based on her apparently successful track record.
After all, her Mandarin albums and English singles had topped various charts.
But everything changed after he began reading e-mails and other evidence that he was not previously privy to.
"I looked at the evidence, the more I realised the success was not real. It was manipulated, in some cases falsified," he said.
Chew, 54, is the fourth accused to testify in the trial involving the six CHC leaders, including CHC founder Kong Hee, who is also Ms Ho's husband.
They are accused of misusing millions of church money to fund Ms Ho's music career. (See report below.)
Chew, who is representing himself after discharging his lawyer last May, left the church in 2013, reportedly citing "a collision of primarily spiritual and moral principles".
Yesterday, he presented e-mails to the court and said that up to 70 per cent of Ms Ho's Mandarin albums were purchased by Xtron, her management company.
He said: "When you buy up your own CDs, of course you don't make money. In fact, you incur production costs. So (2003 till 2006)...were all loss-making years despite Sun's apparent success."
He also presented another e-mail, sent in 2007, in which co-accused Serina Wee and Tan Ye Peng planned to channel funds to a church in Taiwan. From there, money would be passed back to CHC members to buy Ms Ho's CDs, he said.
"The total amount of money (mentioned in the e-mail) that is going to be used to purchase CDs is $197,000. If it is $10 per album, we are talking about 19,700 albums.
"I heard in testimony...by Kong Hee that platinum is about 20,000 copies. So with one stroke, Sun's album will hit platinum status."
Chew added that Kong had also instructed the church members to buy Ms Ho's fifth Mandarin album, Embrace, in an e-mail that was also brought up by the prosecution last August.
He presented another e-mail sent to Tan in February 2008 by Ms Ho's personal assistant, Mr Mark Kwan, who expressed his concern that Ms Ho was "very much considered a separate entity from the secular pop industry".
Mr Kwan had highlighted his concerns that Ms Ho had just 1,000 genuine fans outside the church, despite having toiled seven years in the Asian music scene.
He also said her concerts were attended mainly by church members and "we never leave any possible space for outsiders".
Chew said all these were carried out while keeping most people, including himself, in the dark, so that Ms Ho would appear successful and hence justify the investments for her foray into the US music market.
He maintained he had worked for the church after he was led to believe that Ms Ho's English album would generate huge earnings to pay back the money sunk into producing it.
"We invest based on track record. We invest based on past historical success. There's no other way, especially in projects like this. How else can we be certain that we put in $13 million in Xtron bonds that it's going to come back?"
And perhaps Ms Ho's falsified success was the reason that her English album was delayed for years, Chew said.
"In his own heart, in his own conscience, (Kong) knows Sun is not ready. If she launches a US album, it will be a flop," he added.
"Kong is saying that he has $2.5 million in his own personal account. Surely he should have faith in his own wife. Why doesn't he put his own money into the Crossover Project? Why does he need to risk the church money?
"Your money shouldn't have gone into your apartment at Sentosa...or to the KL (Kuala Lumpur) apartment," Chew said of Kong.
The trial continues today.
'In the course of these proceedings, I’ve seen how evidence has been shaped - in some cases created - to suit a certain line of defence.'
- Chew Eng Han on the trial
ABOUT THE CASE
City Harvest Church founder Kong Hee (above) and five others are on trial for allegedly misusing church funds through sham bonds.
First, $24 million was allegedly used to fund the music career of Kong's wife, Ms Ho Yeow Sun, whose stage name is Sun Ho. Another $26.6 million was then used to allegedly cover up the first amount.
They are said to have done this through music production firm Xtron and glass manufacturer Firna, which were run by long-time supporters of the church.
Kong, former fund manager Chew Eng Han, former board member John Lam, finance manager Sharon Tan, deputy senior pastor Tan Ye Peng and former finance manager Serina Wee face charges of criminal breach of trust and/or falsifying accounts.
Prosecutors had sought to show how Xtron and Firna directors simply did the bidding of the accused.
The defence has argued that the transactions were legitimate, with the accused acting "in good faith" on the advice of lawyers and auditors.