Singapore

City Harvest founder Kong Hee released from prison

He served 2 years and 4 months of his 31/2-year sentence for misusing millions in church funds

City Harvest Church founder Kong Hee was released from jail yesterday after serving more than two years for his role in misusing millions of dollars in church funds.

He remains a spiritual leader in the church, although he has not been on the payroll since 2005.

In a statement on the church's website, its board and senior management said that Mr Kong will be "taking a period to spend time with his family, especially his elderly parents".

While in jail, he spent most of his time seeking and studying "the things of God", the statement said.

Mr Kong also thanked church members for all their prayers for him and his family.

"Your letters brought him comfort and joy," said the statement, urging members to continue to keep Mr Kong, his wife Ho Yeow Sun, son Dayan, and parents in prayer.

With his jail sentence reduced from eight years to 31/2 years upon appeal, Mr Kong's release came a day before he turned 55.

He served some two years and four months. Inmates are usually given one-third remission on their sentence for good behaviour.

Mr Kong's sentence was the longest among the six church leaders who were involved in misappropriating $50 million in church funds, in the largest case of misuse of charitable funds in Singapore's history.

In 2017, the Commissioner of Charities permanently barred Mr Kong and the five other leaders from holding key management positions or being a board member in City Harvest Church or any other charity.

This is to protect the church's assets, given that they were convicted of offences involving dishonesty and/or deception.

The commissioner, Dr Ang Hak Seng, also prohibited the church from hiring or appointing the six without his approval. He told The Straits Times he has not received any such request from City Harvest regarding Mr Kong.

A City Harvest spokesman told ST that Mr Kong is not a church employee and has not been on the church payroll since 2005.

'NO EXECUTIVE ROLE'

The spokesman added: "His role in the City Harvest Church as senior pastor is a spiritual one, he has no executive role."

Contacted at his Upper Bukit Timah home yesterday, Mr Kong declined comment.

Neighbours said his family moved into the terraced house about a year ago.

Besides Mr Kong, the rest of the church's leaders also had their terms shortened.

Four of the other five convicted in the case have also been released from jail. The four are: former deputy senior pastor Tan Ye Peng, former finance managers Serina Wee and Sharon Tan, and former finance committee member John Lam.

The fifth, former fund manager Chew Eng Han, had his sentence of three years and four months extended by 13 months after he tried to flee the country. He will be the last to complete his sentence.

The six were originally charged and convicted of criminal breach of trust as agents, under Section 409 of the Penal Code in 2015 after a 140-day trial and given jail terms ranging from 21 months to eight years.

These were all reduced after an appeal, in which the court accepted that an agent is someone who is a professional agent and not company directors or key officers of charities, such as the City Harvest leaders.

Last month, The Sunday Times reported that City Harvest Church collected $29 million in donations last year, marking a near 40 per cent drop from the $47 million it raised from November 2016 to December 2017.

It had about 16,000 church members last year and was among the top 10 richest charities by donations here.

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