City Harvest doubles stake in Suntec Singapore

Melissa Law

City Harvest Church has increased its stake in Suntec Singapore International Convention and Exhibition Centre to 39.2 per cent, from its original 20 per cent in 2010.

Speaking at its Saturday evening service, the church’s executive pastor, Aries Zulkarnain, told the delighted 6,000-strong congregation that “to put it simply, we are co-owners of this property together with Suntec REIT.”

However, he reminded he congregation, “We are not into building buildings, we are into building lives. All we have done these 23 years has been in obedience to God and his call.”

He explained that in 2010, CHC’s wholly-owned subsidiary, Urban Property Investments Limited acquired a 20 per cent effective shareholding in Suntec Singapore for a total of $43.8 million.

Last year, it then acquired an additional 19.2 percent for a purchase price of $54 million. To date, the church has spent $97.8 million on purchasing its current 39.2 stake in the property.

“The balance 60.8 percent effective shareholding in the Property is held by Suntec Harmony Pte Ltd, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Suntec REIT,” he said.

Pastor Zulkarnain also explained the use of the property’s budget, revealing that the purchase of the additional stake initially caused CHC to exceed its $310 million budget by $17 million.

However, their team “worked very hard” to reduce the cost of shifting, allowing them to keep to their original budget.

Through its “ownership-and-lease” model, which allows the church to use dividends from the property to fund the rental costs of its weekend services, the pastor explained that CHC “intends to eventually become self-sustaining in respect to payments of future rentals”.

“I’m very pleasantly surprised by the fact that CHC holds a 39.2 per cent stake,” 36-year-old Mario Singh, CEO of FX1 Academy told CHC’s newsletter, City News.

“To me, it means that our leadership has done everything it aimed to do, which has always been to use the building fund in an intelligent way, investing it so that it keeps growing. So it’s not just increased through the congregation’s giving, but this money is also multiplying itself,” he said.

This announcement comes just a week before the church’s annual general meeting, “in accordance with the Commissioner of Charities’ suggestion” that the church reveals developments in its Suntec investments to its congregation.

It also comes about a month after City Harvest Church founder Kong Hee and four other senior CHC members were charged in court for alleged misuse of church funds.

Kong, 47, faces three charges for committing criminal breach of trust as an agent of CHC and for allegedly misappropriating about $24 million from CHC's building funds, reportedly to further his wife, Sun Ho’s singing career.

Each charge carries the maximum punishment of life imprisonment and a fine.