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Kong Hee offered to step down from church board in 2006 email

SINGAPORE — City Harvest Church (CHC) co-founders Kong Hee and his wife, Ms Ho Yeow Sun, were open to resigning from its management board to avoid potential reproach to the church arising from her singing career, the court heard yesterday.

SINGAPORE — City Harvest Church (CHC) co-founders Kong Hee and his wife, Ms Ho Yeow Sun, were open to resigning from its management board to avoid potential reproach to the church arising from her singing career, the court heard yesterday.

Kong had told auditors this in a July 23, 2006, email about a year before the church made investments that prosecutors are alleging were sham deals to channel church funds to Ms Ho’s pop career. He wrote that he was “personally very troubled” about whether there were issues with his wife receiving a salary from her then-managers and CHC-linked firm Xtron Productions.

Xtron derived the bulk of its operating income from the church but, in his email, Kong wrote that her S$500,000 annual salary — S$16,000 a month for her singing and S$16,000 for each live concert — was paid “totally from non-CHC sources”.

He asked Mr Foong Daw Ching and Mr Joseph Toh of Baker Tilly if this constituted a “related party transaction”.

“If there is simply no way out of this related party dilemma, Sun and I are even willing to resign from the management board of CHC, if that would help diffuse the semblance of any conflict of interest on her part,” wrote Kong, who is on trial with five other church leaders for criminal breach of trust and falsification of accounts.

Mr Foong, who was on the stand for the fifth day, came under fire from defence lawyers yesterday. Asked by Kong’s lawyer, Mr Edwin Tong, about this email, he said he could not recall what he did in reaction.

Questions on two subsequent documents sent to him by Tan Ye Peng and Serina Wee Gek Yin — who are among the accused — seeking his advice on the Xtron bonds the church bought also drew a blank.

It prompted Mr Tong to accuse him of giving untruthful testimony to distance himself from advice he had given to several of the accused, while Tan’s lawyer, Mr N Sreenivasan, said he gave “vague, imprecise” answers.

Since he was a Christian elder and an experienced auditor with long ties with CHC, was Tan not entitled to act on his advice in good faith, Mr Sreenivasan asked.

But Mr Foong insisted that he could only advise them based on the information they provided and that they knew it was ad hoc advice.

He said he did not probe for more information in order to not encroach into audit areas and cited an instance where he forwarded an email he received to the audit partners in charge of the church’s accounts. The accused are “intelligent people” with a team behind them, he added.

The court also heard that several staff members of Baker Tilly — including Mr Foong, Managing Partner Sim Guan Seng, Ms Foong Ai Fang and Ms Tiang Yii — conducted a post-mortem after probes on CHC began.

Asked if any blame was attributed to him, Mr Foong said he did not remember this to be the case and questioned if Mr Sreenivasan was trying to “insinuate anything”.

The lawyer replied that he was not.

His cross-examination continues today.

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