City Harvest stands by disgraced pastor

Updated at 1.30pm – With comments from the police and the Attorney-General's Chambers

City Harvest Church (CHC) has thrown its weight behind its founder Kong Hee and four other key members who were charged Wednesday over alleged misuse of the charity’s funds.

In a statement released by executive pastor Aries Zulkarnain on Thursday evening, the church stated that it is standing by the five individuals.

"The people currently in the news are our pastors and trusted staff and leaders who have always put God and CHC first," he said. "As a church we stand with them and i believe fully in their integrity."

The statement also said that Kong, 47, and his deputy pastor Tan Ye Peng, 39, who both face charges of criminal breach of trust, will continue preaching at the megachurch.

Addressing the current charges that stand against the five accused leaders, Zulkarnain maintained that the church did not lose any money in the transactions detailed in the charges, which list two separate amounts of S$24 million and a further S$26.6 million.

"The S$24 million, which went into investment bonds, was returned to the church in full, with interest... The church did not lose any funds in the relevant transactions, and no personal profit was gained by the individuals concerned," he said.

In response to the church’s statement, the Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC) said, “We wish to reiterate that as criminal charges are now before the court and will be subject to adjudication by the court; and that as such, neither the prosecution nor any other party should comment on issues which will be subject to adjudication and on which evidence will be led in court.”

The police, responding to the same statement, said, "Generally, in law, the offence of criminal breach of trust of monies is established once there is misappropriation of the monies with the requisite intent, regardless of whether there have or have not been subsequent attempts at restitution by the accused.”

Still, the church's pastor in charge of missions Bobby Chaw said the church had taken measures to meet the code of governance that was established by the Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports over the past two years.

Noting that half of the church’s management board had been replaced with new members, Chaw pointed out that a full internal audit had been carried out, with the church putting into action the recommendations made from it.

He said also that the church was surprised that the Commissioner of Charities (COC) had suspended the eight church leaders -- the five who were charged, as well as Kong's wife and U.S.-based singer Ho Yeow Sun, 40, and two others -- without prior notice.

Chaw also said in the statement that certain media outlets "seem to have pre-judged" the case, particularly in relation to their treatment of the COC inquiry, adding that they will be dealt with "in due course".

Kong, Tan and three other City Harvest leaders were on Tuesday arrested for questioning by the Commercial Affairs Department on allegations of misuse of some $23 million in church funds to advance Sun Ho’s music career.

The COC said in an earlier statement that an inquiry it conducted found a “concerted effort” had been made by the five to conceal the mismanagement from the church’s thousands of attendees, many of whom donate substantial portions of their incomes through tithing.

The five were later charged in court on Wednesday with a total of 33 charges of criminal breach of trust and falsifying church accounts to cover up discrepancies. They are now all out on bail.

Before Thursday evening’s statement, the church had only informed its community that its operations and cell group meetings would proceed as usual, including its weekend services at the Singapore Expo and its main building in Jurong West, but had declined further comment on the case as it was before the courts.