Meet 'Na-Wee', a key Kong Hee number-cruncher
If I had committed fraud and forgery, I would stay away from my auditor, not go to him.
That was what City Harvest Church (CHC) founder Kong Hee told the court yesterday.
He said that in 2008, after Ren Ci Hospital's brushes with the law came to light, a CHC board member admitted he did not feel good about the megachurch's accounts.
Former board president Kong said he then called for an internal investigation and for checks to be done by auditors because he wanted CHC to be above board and transparent.
Kong and five other CHC leaders are on trial for allegedly misusing more than $50 million of church money through sham bonds.
Some of this money was allegedly used to fund singer Sun Ho's music career through two companies - music production firm Xtron and glass manufacturer Firna.
Kong, 49, is the second accused to take the stand after former board member John Lam.
Yesterday, he told the court that there was scrutiny of public charities in July 2008, the month when Ren Ci's chief Shi Ming Yi was charged with misappropriation of funds and forgery before being found guilty and jailed.
It prompted board member Suraj - who goes by one name - to e-mail Kong and express his concerns about CHC's transactions with Xtron, which was funding the Crossover Project in the US, as well as the retainer agreement with Research University for Leadership.
Said Kong: "I was away. Usually they wouldn't want to.... disturb me when I'm busy in the mission field.
"But for Raj to write this e-mail to me, it must be important to him, so... it will be important to me."
He had also asked if all the church's financial transactions had been vetted by lawyers and auditors, including CHC adviser Foong Daw Ching.
Kong's lawyer, Mr Edwin Tong, then took his client through a series of documents and e-mails showing that CHC had made known its transactions and future dealings to Mr Foong.
"Brother Foong... would be aware of... (the) concerns that I had, plus all the steps in the processes," said Kong.
These issues included the Xtron and Firna bonds, that Ho was an artist managed by Xtron between 2003 and 2008, the plan to buy the Riverwalk property, and even that Xtron was losing money every year, he said.
"If I have committed fraud, corruption and forgery, why would I want to see him? I would want to stay away from him.
"But the fact that I wanted... my team to go and see him... was because I wanted to be open with him and to let him... advise us," he said.
Kong also admitted yesterday that the Crossover Project in the US, where Ho was working on an English album, was a "high-risk" venture.
This was due to the high fees demanded by famed producer Wyclef Jean, who had asked for consultation fees of US$4.5 million (S$5.6 million) to be paid in advance.
HALF THE PROFITS
Kong also said that Wyclef and Lisa Ellis, Ho's US-based marketer, had asked for half of the profits that would be earned from the sales of her English album, which is yet to be released.
Kong said the deal would be financially viable only if Xtron receives 90 per cent of the profits.
He also claimed he was "a novice" with the technicalities of budgeting and frequently consulted his co-accused - Tan Ye Peng and Serina Wee, who was affectionately referred to as "Na Wee" in some e-mails by Kong.
Wee would check the cash flow projections that were prepared by American music producer Justin Herz, said Kong.
Mr Tong presented an e-mail in which Wee had said she "spent the whole morning" pouring through the documents.
She also pointed out a "major" error at one point - double deductions for "publicity and expenses" - and helped redo the calculations.
Said Kong: "It would make the projection more favourable."
The trial continues today.
ABOUT THE CASE
City Harvest Church founder Kong Hee and five others are on trial for allegedly misusing church funds through sham bonds.
This includes $24 million to fund the music career of Kong's wife Sun Ho and another $26.6 million to cover up the first amount.
They are said to have done this through production firm Xtron and glass manufacturer Firna, which are run by long-time supporters of the megachurch.
Kong, former board member John Lam, finance manager Sharon Tan, former investment manager Chew Eng Han, deputy senior pastor Tan Ye Peng and former finance manager Serina Wee, face varying charges of criminal breach of trust and/or falsifying accounts.
Prosecutors had sought to show how Xtron and Firna directors had simply done 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.