Kong Hee allowed to travel overseas, bail doubled

UPDATED, 31 July 2012

The court has approved City Harvest Church (CHC) founder Kong Hee’s application to travel overseas.

Kong, 47, turned up at the Subordinate Courts on Monday afternoon to ask for permission to leave the country.

Yahoo! Singapore understands that Kong will be travelling “in the region for pastoral purposes”.

His bail has since been raised to S$1 million, up from S$500,000.

Earlier last week, Kong has expressed his confidence that he will be vindicated.

In a press statement issued on Wednesday evening, Kong, who has been accused in relation to alleged misuse of church funds, said, “I do maintain my integrity, and will rigorously defend that integrity against these charges”, which he said he had carefully considered with his lawyers.

“I have and will continue to place my faith and trust in our judicial system,” Kong continued. “I will explain the facts and circumstances to the Court, and am confident that I will be vindicated.”

A sixth person was charged on 25 July in the high-profile misappropriation case involving Kong and four other key church members.

35-year-old Serina Wee, formerly the church's chief finance director, was on Wednesday morning charged with six counts of criminal breach of trust and four for falsification of accounts.

She had her charges read to her as Kong, deputy pastor Tan Ye Peng, church board member John Lam, former finance manager Sharon Tan and investment manager Chew Eng Han stood in front of her for the second court mention of their respective charges.

Like the others, Wee's police bail was posted at S$500,000, and her passport was impounded.

As for the earlier accused, public prosecutors discussed and agreed with lawyers representing the five to postpone their next appearance in court by five weeks, so that Wee's charges can be next discussed alongside theirs.

Furthermore, defence counsel for all six said on Wednesday that their clients would not likely be pleading guilty -- which means they are likely to claim trial.

Representing Kong is Member of Parliament Edwin Tong, partner at Allen & Gledhill, while the others have since their first appearance engaged senior counsel to defend them in court -- a sign that the upcoming trial will be a costly one.

Pre-trial conferences for all six cases will be held on 30 August.

The church members arrived at court on Wednesday morning one by one, between 8:30am and 8:55am, when 47-year-old Kong arrived.

Kong was this time not accompanied by his wife Ho Yeow Sun, better known as singer Sun Ho.

The atmosphere at court appeared significantly calmer compared to the first time the five were charged, as supporters from the church arrived quietly in groups between as early as 7:45am and gathered in an orderly fashion outside the courtroom.

Supporters were more muted during the group's exit after their court mention as well, and there were few signs of any scuffles between them and members of the media.

Kong, Tan Ye Peng, Sharon Tan, Lam and Chew were charged at the end of last month for between three and 10 counts of criminal breach of trust and misappropriation of funds amounting to the tune of some S$24 million, with further charges of conspiring to use another S$26.6 million to cover up the initial misappropriation.

The initial S$24 million amount was allegedly used to fund Ho's singing career.

Each of their charges carries the maximum penalty of life imprisonment and a fine.

With additional reporting by Gail Chai

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