TODAY reports: Judge See Kee Oon says Kong Hee capitalised on the church’s climate of paranoia and fear in 2003 to galvanise support for the Crossover Project.
- POSTED: 23 Oct 2015 08:24
SINGAPORE: Criticising what he called the culture of insecurity that six City Harvest Church leaders convicted on Wednesday (Oct 21) operated under, Presiding Judge of the State Courts See Kee Oon saved some of his strongest words for church founder Kong Hee in his 270-page written judgment released to the media on Thursday.
The six leaders – Kong, his deputy Tan Ye Peng, former church accountant Serina Wee, former church investment manager Chew Eng Han, former church finance manager Sharon Tan and former church board member John Lam – were found guilty on all counts of criminal breach of trust and/or falsification of accounts.
The judge had delivered his oral judgment, a condensed version of the written grounds, on Wednesday. He found that they had acted dishonestly and in breach of the trust reposed in them to cause wrongful loss of S$50 million to the church and to defraud auditors.
The judge said Kong capitalised on the church climate of paranoia and fear in 2003 to galvanise support for the Crossover Project – using his wife Ho Yeow Sun’s secular pop music to reach out to non-Christians.
The collective fear arose after then-church member Roland Poon publicly commented that church funds had been used to promote Ms Ho’s music career. Kong’s response to the incident revealed “both his personal dominance and deep insecurity”, said judge See.
The pastor rallied the church “around the big idea that … CHC’s leaders and by extension the entire church were being maligned and under attack, and hence had to be discreet”, the judge added.
The effort to keep the church’s financing of the Crossover discreet led to the set-up of Xtron Productions to manage Ms Ho’s career. The criminal charges in this case relate in part to sham bonds worth millions of dollars that the church bought from Xtron to channel church funds to the Crossover Project.
All six leaders’ committed zeal for the Crossover vision may have clouded their objectivity and judgment and obscured the need to safeguard money that was not theirs to use as they wished, said Judge See. They chose to create cover stories and clever round-trips concealing their unlawful conduct, he added.
“The allure of power that can be exercised in secrecy is difficult to resist. When shrouded under a cloak of invisibility, much like the mythical ring of Gyges, persons in such positions of power have no fear of accountability and tend to become their own worst enemies,” he wrote.
The ring of Gyges is a mythical artefact that grants its owner the power to become invisible at will, mentioned in Greek philosopher Plato’s The Republic.
Judge See wrote: “It has thus been wisely said that the real tragedy is when men are afraid of the light, and if they choose not to come into the light they do so for fear that their deeds will be exposed, as they surely will in time.”
Kong would not have been able to act alone and could not orchestrate every move, and the five other leaders were both trusted and trusting, he added.
Noting that none of the six was aware of all the details, the judge said it could be because there were far too many moving parts in the plan for the Crossover to the United States, which grew more ambitious over time.
The US foray involved Ms Ho’s debut English album, which had hip-hop star Wyclef Jean roped in at one point. It led to the church’s sham bond investments worth S$24 million in Xtron and another company, and four of the leaders then misused another S$26.6 million of church funds to try to cover up the first amount.
“But this may have also been the inevitable consequence of CHC’s election to carry out its affairs and operations relating to the funding of the Crossover in a discreet fashion. This was merely a euphemism for a culture of insecurity mired in secrecy and opaqueness where asking difficult or awkward questions was taboo,” the judge wrote.
Separately, Kong broke his silence on the verdict on Thursday, posting on Facebook his belief that God would use the outcome of the case for good.
The pastor also thanked his supporters and said: “The days and steps ahead are challenging, but with God’s grace and love, I have no fear.”
The six will be back in court on Nov 20, where they could be sentenced.