Singapore: Six Christian church leaders in Singapore were jailed today for misusing over USD 35 million of funds to promote the singing carer of the pastor's wife, in one of the biggest charity scandals in the country's history.
City Harvest Church's (CHC) senior pastor Kong Hee, 51, was sentenced to eight years in prison as leader of the mega- church who launched the signing career of his wife to promote gospel among non-Christians.
Also sentenced were former CHC fund manager Chew Eng Han, 55, who received a six-year sentence, deputy senior pastor Tan Ye Peng, 43, who got five-and-a-half years, and ex-finance manager Serina Wee, 38, who got five years. Ex-CHC finance committee member John Lam, 47, and former finance manager Sharon Tan, 40, got three years and 21 months, respectively.
Judge See Kee Oon said Kong Hee was the most culpable, followed by Tan Ye Peng, Chew Eng Han, Serina Wee, and John Lam. The six were found guilty last month on all counts of criminal breach of trust, and falsification of accounts.
Their sentences will start on January 11 next year.
They set up sham bond investments to fund the Crossover Project, the church's attempt to reach out to non- Christians by propelling Kong Hee's wife Ho Yeow Sun to pop stardom.
In court, the defence argued the co-accused were merely following orders and acting in the interests of the church, and thus their sentences should be calibrated.
The prosecution team said "each of the accused persons played their respective roles in a conspiracy with intent to cause wrongful loss to CHC and to defraud the auditors".
"They did not merely wait passively for Kong Hee to instruct them to carry out each specific act and deception needed to drive the conspiracy forward. They took their own initiative to deceive and mislead the trusting members of CHC where necessary, and cannot escape responsibility for those acts," the prosecution said.
The six were found guilty of misappropriating 24 million Singapore dollars (USD 17 million) in church funds, funneling them into bogus investments that funded the singing career of Kong's wife. A further 26 million dollars (USD 18 million) were used to cover their tracks.
A letter, signed by 173 of the church's current executive members, pleading for leniency, was submitted to the court. The trial, which commenced in 2013, stretched over 140 days.
It is one of the longest criminal cases in history, second only to a drug trafficking case in the 1990s that went on for 168 days, according to The Straits Times reports.
Criminal investigations into the mega-church's financial affairs began in 2010.