A pastor I had a lunch appointment with burst into the church office, Have you heard the news? What news? I asked. He delivered the bad, sad but not unexpected news. After lunch I went to check the Straits Times online and read this:
“All six City Harvest Church (CHC) leaders, including founder Kong Hee, were found guilty of all charges on Wednesday (Oct 21).Judge See Kee Oon delivered the verdict of the long-running trial. The six defendants are Kong, 51; deputy senior pastor Tan Ye Peng, 42; former CHC fund manager Chew Eng Han, 55; former CHC finance managers Serina Wee, 38, and Sharon Tan, 40; and former CHC finance committee member John Lam, 47.They were accused of misappropriating $24 million in church funds, funnelling them into bogus investments that funded the singing career of the pastor’s wife, Ms Ho Yeow Sun. Later, a further $26 million was used to cover their tracks.The six faced varying counts of criminal breach of trust and falsifying accounts. The first offence is punishable with a life sentence, or up to 20 years in prison and a fine. The second carries a maximum of 10 years in jail, a fine or both.Kong and Lam were found guilty of three charges of criminal breach of trust. Tan Ye Peng, Chew and Wee were convicted of six charges of criminal breach of trust and four charges of falsifying accounts. Sharon Tan was found guilty of three charges of criminal breach of trust and four charges of falsifying accounts.Sentencing will be at a later date.Delivering the verdict to a packed courtroom, Judge See said the main background facts were undisputed.On the wrong use of building funds, he said the bonds were “not genuine investments”. The “perceived success of Crossover was inflated”, he added.The six accused knew the building fund was a restricted fund. “It was not a realistic expectation to expect US album to sell more than 200,000,” he said, adding that it was “mere excuse” for City Harvest Church to channel money to Xtron, the company that managed Ms Ho.He was referring to the Crossover Project started by the church in 2002 to evangelise through Ms Ho’s pop music. Her career was initially funded directly by the church. But in 2003, a church member made public allegations that funds were being misused to bankroll Ms Ho’s career.The accused subsequently poured millions from the church’s building fund into Ms Ho’s music career, through a series of sham bond investments.Referring to Kong, Tan Ye Peng, Wee and Chew, Judge See said they knew that they had something to hide. The prospect of financial return was not their “genuine concern”, he said. “Accused persons all knew that the primary purpose of the bonds (was) to channel money to the Crossover (Project).”The accused people “just created labels attached on to stretch the meaning of the money”, he said, adding that he was not convinced of the supposed mixed purpose of the bonds. Referring to Chew, Tan Ye Peng, Wee and Sharon Tan, the judge said they all had the intent to defraud.He noted that much of the defence centred on the beliefs and they went ahead to act in good faith as a result. The weight of the evidence showed that they knew they were dishonest, he added. “They convinced themselves it was morally and legally permissible to use church funds, when they knew it was wrong.”Kong’s head was bowed low when the verdict was read. Wee appeared to be slightly teary-eyed, and Sharon Tan was seen wiping away tears.Bail of $1 million was extended to Kong, Tan Ye Peng, Chew and Lam. Bail amount was set at $750,000 for Sharon Tan and Wee. Wee was previously out on bail for $500,000. All six are barred from travelling overseas.The prosecution will file written submissions by Nov 6. The defence will file mitigation pleas by Nov 13. Oral submissions will be delivered on Nov 20 at 9.30am.”
For many on the sidelines who have heard, read the news, prayed and followed the three years of City Harvest Church leaders’ trials, the verdict was not a surprise. There were no raised eyebrows, no protests, just a sense of relief that the longest ever criminal trial in Singapore is about to end, and a lament that we the church are in a real sense one in all this.
An ancient prayer comes to our aid in this time of lament, shame and humiliation: O Lord Jesus Christ, take us to Thyself, draw us with cords to the foot of Thy cross; for we have no strength to come, and we know not the way. Thou art mighty to save, and none can separate us from Thy love. Bring us home to Thyself, for we are gone astray. We have wandered: do Thou seek us. Under the shadow of Thy cross let us live all the rest of our lives, and there we shall be safe. (Frederick Temple, 1821-1902).