Emails revealed in City Harvest trial: 'We are just instruments to make things happen'

[UPDATE on 20 May, adding details from proceedings on Day 3 of trial]

More evidence emerged on the third day of the City Harvest Church (CHC) leaders' misappropriation trial Monday, where former finance managers Serina Wee and Sharon Tan, who are both among the six accused church leaders, allegedly sought to avoid scrutiny on the transactions they were engaging in.

Local media reports quoted an email Wee sent to Tan, where the former said she wanted to ensure the interests of Advante Consulting, a firm she holds a directorship position at, were preserved by making sure it was not mentioned in any of the transactions so the "auditors wouldn't blame us (Advante)".

Evidence of another email from Wee to Firna director Wahju Hanafi reportedly showed her asking him to complete some of the transactions in the "soonest possible time frame" in order to prevent the bank from raising any questions.

In a response Wahju reportedly sent to Wee, Chew Eng Han and former accounts assistant Angie Koh, who took the witness stand for the first time Monday, he said, "All these costs are to be borne by Xtron or whatever company. We are just instruments to make things happen."

Also emerging on the third day of the trial proceedings was the fact that the church had paid some $6 million to one Justin Herz, who owned JH Music, an American production house and promoter for City Harvest founder Kong Hee's wife Sun Ho's first English-language single and album.

The amount was reportedly listed under "additional JH needs" in a spreadsheet attached in an email sent by Wee in 2009.

Another email Koh sent to Wahju was also pulled out, where she instructed him to settle a series of transactions to allow the money to reach Herz in a two-week timeframe.

Asked about this by public prosecutors, Koh said she "could not remember" what Herz had to do with the drawdown of bonds from Firna, with which the transactions in question were associated.

Last Wednesday, former CHC accountant Lai Bao Ting was the first witness to take the stand in court for the trial against the mega-church's founder Kong Hee and five of the church's leaders for alleged misappropriation of funds.
In one set of charges, Kong Hee, Tan Ye Peng, Chew Eng Han, Serina Wee Gek Yin, Tan Shao Yuen Sharon and Lam Leng Hung (known as John Lam) are accused of criminal breach of trust for dishonestly misusing $24 million in church building funds to finance the music career of Kong's wife, Sun Ho.

In another set, Chew, Tan Ye Peng, Sharon Tan and Wee are said to have diverted about $26 million in church funds by channelling the sum into Xtron Productions and PT The First National Glassware (Firna) as bond investments. This was allegedly to cover up the "sham transactions" in the first batch of charges.

Lai, a former assistant accountant who had joined CHC in February 2006, was questioned by deputy public prosecutor Tan Kiat Pheng during the afternoon court session.

The court heard that Lai, who reported to finance managers Wee and Sharon Tan, was involved in recording transactions between CHC and Xtron Productions Pte Ltd. In emails, she also would sign off as a representative of Xtron Productions though she was not a staff of the company. She explained this was because she was asked to help handle Xtron's accounts.

During questioning, DPP Tan had asked her whether she understood the concerns that was raised by external auditor Sim Guan Seng - the latter had queried the church’s close relationship with third party Xtron Productions, an artiste management business that used to handle Sun Ho's career, as well as the church’s investments in AMAC Capital Partners, a company owned by former church member Chew Eng Han.

The soft spoken Lai, who wore a maroon top and black pants, answered "no". In her conditioned statement, she said there were instances that she followed her manager's (Sharon Tan) instructions to record entries involving millions of dollars to companies like Xtron.

Lai stayed on the stand on Thursday as well.

On both the first two days of the trial, crowds of supporters queued outside the Subordinate Courts at the crack of dawn, with some reportedly lining up as early as late Tuesday evening, to get entry passes to the trial.

Serina Wee exiting court in a classy emerald green dress. (Yahoo! Photo)
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In the opening statement, lead prosecutor Mavis Chionh pointed out that the church's building funds came from donations by members to a campaign specifically targeted to support the construction of a new church.

Also, based on admitted statements of fact, the CHC management board publicly said none of the church's funds were being used to promote the career of Ho.

However, the prosecutor asserted that evidence would show that the six accused conspired to devise "purported" bond investments through which $13 million in building funds was misappropriated for Ho's career and $11 million was used for the same purpose as well as to for the personal use of one Wahju Hanafi.

The prosecution stressed that it was immaterial whether the accused believed that the promotion of Ho's music career would further the broader objectives of CHC.

"The question is whether the diversion of the Building Fund monies towards financing her music career, under the guise of purported bond investments, was an authorised use of the Building Fund," the prosecutor said.

The prosecution also pointed out that the "theological legitimacy" of using Ho's music career as a means of evangelism was not at issue in the trial and was not relevant to the charges against the accused.

Regarding the second set of charges, the prosecution alleged that the four accused over this aspect of the case conspired to effect the supposed redemption of the bonds "by misappropriating further sums totalling about $26.6 million of CHC's monies".

The prosecution said the accused intended to defraud the auditors of CHC and false entries into CHC's accounts had been made. This was said to have happened in 2009.

In conclusion, the prosecution said the evidence would show that "the offences were part of a deliberately planned, meticulously coordinated, and carefully executed scheme which stretched over a prolonged period of time and involved the movement of millions of dollars".

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