Saturday, October 24, 2015

City Harvest Church trial

[I was a little surprised to find out that there is a website which is tracking and compiling views against the City Harvest Church. And other churches. And linking them all together. Note tho, that the people (or person) responsible for Churchwatch, are Christians who are concerned about the rise of cults or cult-like "churches" with questionable values or motives. So they are not against Churches or Christianity per se (that is, they are not atheists or anti-Christianity or anti-church or anti-religion). As such, Christians may be able to find their views more acceptable and in line with their beliefs and values. 

There are three general views about this incident one may have: 1) CHC are being persecuted in the grand tradition of state persecuting churches. 2) CHC is a false church, or CHC leaders are false leaders. And 3) All religions, all churches are scams, swindles, con jobs, and prey on the weak-willed. CHC is evidence of this.

And of course within each of these broad views they maybe variations and subtle nuances. For example, someone might believe that CHC is a True, Good Church, but that over time, the leaders were brought astray by hubris, or temptation or mammon, And so for their human failings they should be punished but it does not mean that they are actually evil or bad.

Actually on second thought, only the followers of CHC will have cognitive dissonance and need to resolve that dissonance in themselves.

Anyway, the point is, the Churchwatch website is pretty fair in terms of the factual presentation and secular criticism of CHC. As for it's religious, spiritual, and theological criticism of CHC, I leave that to others to consider and comment. I have no expertise in that.

So the trial is over, verdict has been rendered. The accused are considering whether they should appeal. Sentencing is set for 20 Nov.

Here are the reports on the judgement.] 

City Harvest Church trial: What the judge said

October 23, 2015

SINGAPORE — Presiding Judge of the State Courts See Kee Oon released his full written judgment grounds for the City Harvest Church trial today (Oct 22), in which he criticised the culture of insecurity that the six convicted former leaders of the mega-church operated under.

CHC founder Kong Hee, his deputy Tan Ye Peng, former church accountant Serina Wee, former church investment manager Chew Eng Han, former finance manager Sharon Tan and former church board member John Lam were found guilty on all of counts of criminal breach of trust and/or falsification of accounts. Here is an excerpt of what the judge said about each of the offenders’ roles and conduct.

Kong Hee, church founder and senior pastor
“In my assessment, Kong Hee’s evidence reveals his tendency to lapse readily into embellishment or exaggeration ... He does not appear to dispute that he demonstrates a penchant for hyperbole ... Kong Hee maintains that he is a pastor and not an expert in legality. But one does not need to be an expert in legality to appreciate certain fundamental aspects of honesty, truth and integrity. He maintains that he did not control Xtron, but the weight of the evidence contradicts this claim flatly. He had also previously maintained emphatically that no church funds were ever used (in his own words, ‘not a single cent’) to support Sun Ho’s music career and boost her sales prior to the Roland Poon incident, but this is again flatly contradicted by the evidence that emerged at the trial.”

Tan Ye Peng, deputy senior pastor
“A familiar pattern of Ye Peng’s that emerged during cross-examination was to concede that he ‘did not know how to answer’ the question or that he ‘wasn’t thinking so much about this’ ... They reflected the reality that he was not aware of the full range of details, but also showed the extent of his deference to Kong Hee and Eng Han and his unquestioning trust of his fellow CHC members within the inner circle ... He may have believed he was acting in CHC’s best interests as Kong Hee professed to have done, but I find that he had acted consciously and dishonestly in applying the Building Fund for a wrong use.”

John Lam Leng Hung, former church board member
“I accept that John Lam’s participation and involvement was much less extensive compared with that of the other accused. However, a lesser degree of participation does not immediately absolve him of culpability ... I am persuaded by the evidence and the prosecution’s submission that John Lam performed a special role that none of the conspirators could have fulfilled. He was the “inside man” from within CHC’s trusted inner circle, occupying key positions of financial responsibility as treasurer, finance committee member, investment committee chairman and audit committee member. Working from those positions, I agree that John Lam actively participated in the scheme to ensure that funding for Sun Ho’s music career would be obtained through the Xtron and Firna bonds.”

Chew Eng Han, former church investment manager and board member
“In my view, Eng Han’s forceful personality coupled with his determination and drive to achieve his objectives was recognised and exploited by Kong Hee. In this regard, they were kindred spirits and they tapped and fuelled each other’s drive, one as a spiritual leader and the other as a finance expert. The difficulty came when moral and ethical lines became ambiguous and subjective, in the name of having to be discreet to avoid disclosure of CHC’s funding for the Crossover. In Eng Han’s words: “I think most of us didn’t know where that line exactly was.” Notwithstanding that, Eng Han chose to cross the line with Kong Hee and Ye Peng leading the way.”

Serina Wee, former church accountant
“Serina cannot claim to be ignorant or unaware of the Crossover’s financing needs that culminated in the bond transactions. She was a key member of the ‘Crossover team’, being the one tasked with monitoring Xtron’s finances and alerting Kong Hee and Ye Peng about upcoming requirements, cashflow deficits, shortfalls or “valley points”. She was heavily and inextricably embroiled in the cashflow planning and projection process and was no unwitting accomplice. Her attempts to portray her motives as laudable do not detract from her guilty knowledge. I do not doubt her commitment to CHC’s vision for the Crossover and her love for CHC, but this did not ipso facto mean that she was thus incapable of criminal conduct.”

Sharon Tan Shao Yuen, former church finance manager
“Sharon says that she believed that Kong Hee “loves the church a lot and will never do anything to harm the church” ... Her defence is that she was an ignorant and unwitting accomplice, drawn into the tangled web ... Like the other accused persons who professed their love for CHC and support for the Crossover vision, I do not doubt Sharon’s evidence in this regard. I am of the view, however, that Sharon’s knowledge and involvement went far beyond that of a mere employee who was dutifully carrying out instructions. She supported Kong Hee’s vision and had chosen to help facilitate the round-tripping transactions, and it can hardly be said that she honestly believed that they were legally entitled to do so.”

CHC slammed for ‘secrecy, culture of insecurity’
Oct 22, 2015

By Neo Chai Chin -

SINGAPORE — Criticising what he called the culture of insecurity that six City Harvest Church leaders convicted yesterday (Oct 21) operated under, Presiding Judge of the State Courts See Kee Oon saved some of his strongest words for church founder Kong Hee in his 270-page written judgment released to the media today.

The six leaders — Kong, his deputy Tan Ye Peng, former church accountant Serina Wee, former church investment manager Chew Eng Han, former church finance manager Sharon Tan and former church board member John Lam — were found guilty on all counts of criminal breach of trust and/or falsification of accounts.

The judge had delivered his oral judgment, a condensed version of the written grounds, yesterday. He found that they had acted dishonestly and in breach of the trust reposed in them to cause wrongful loss of S$50 million to the church and to defraud auditors.

The judge said Kong capitalised on the church climate of paranoia and fear in 2003 to galvanise support for the Crossover Project — using his wife Ho Yeow Sun’s secular pop music to reach out to non-Christians.

The collective fear arose after then-church member Roland Poon publicly commented that church funds had been used to promote Ms Ho’s music career. Kong’s response to the incident revealed “both his personal dominance and deep insecurity”, said judge See.

The pastor rallied the church “around the big idea that ... CHC’s leaders and by extension the entire church were being maligned and under attack, and hence had to be discreet”, he added.

The effort to keep the church’s financing of the Crossover discreet led to the set-up of Xtron Productions to manage Ms Ho’s career. The criminal charges in this case relate in part to sham bonds worth millions of dollars that the church bought from Xtron to channel church funds to the Crossover Project.

All six leaders’ committed zeal for the Crossover vision may have clouded their objectivity and judgment and obscured the need to safeguard money that was not theirs to use as they wished, said Judge See. They chose to create cover stories and clever round-trips concealing their unlawful conduct, he added.

“The allure of power that can be exercised in secrecy is difficult to resist. When shrouded under a cloak of invisibility, much like the mythical ring of Gyges, persons in such positions of power have no fear of accountability and tend to become their own worst enemies,” he wrote.

The ring of Gyges is a mythical artefact that grants its owner the power to become invisible at will, mentioned in Greek philosopher Plato’s The Republic.

Judge See wrote: “It has thus been wisely said that the real tragedy is when men are afraid of the light, and if they choose not to come into the light they do so for fear that their deeds will be exposed, as they surely will in time.”

Kong would not have been able to act alone and could not orchestrate every move, and the five other leaders were both trusted and trusting, he added.

Noting that none of the six was aware of all the details, the judge said it could be because there were far too many moving parts in the plan for the Crossover to the United States, which grew more ambitious over time.

The US foray involved Ms Ho’s debut English album, which had hip-hop star Wyclef Jean roped in at one point. It led to the church’s sham bond investments worth S$24 million in Xtron and another company, and four of the leaders then misused another S$26.6 million of church funds to try to cover up the first amount.

“But this may have also been the inevitable consequence of CHC’s election to carry out its affairs and operations relating to the funding of the Crossover in a discreet fashion. This was merely a euphemism for a culture of insecurity mired in secrecy and opaqueness where asking difficult or awkward questions was taboo,” the judge wrote.

Separately, Kong broke his silence on the verdict today, posting on Facebook his belief that God would use the outcome of the case for good.

The pastor also thanked his supporters and said: “The days and steps ahead are challenging, but with God’s grace and love, I have no fear.”

The six will be back in court on Nov 20, where they could be sentenced.


Post Script

From CHC Churchwatch
Pray that next week, Kong Hee is sent to prison and that in prison he repents and is forgiven for all his false teaching and false nonsense that he was teaching. ‘Oh! You don’t have to compromise and be be rich!’ Oh he compromised big time!”
Whether he repents or not is irrelevant to me. I hope he does, but only because I believe people should do the right thing. Not because I feel specifically for him or has any interest in him or his Church or his followers. In fact, if I feel for his followers, it would be better if he did not repent, remain defiant and continues to lie (to himself, if not to others). That way, it would be easier for the followers to see the truth for themselves. If he makes a public show of repentance, I would be sceptical if it were sincere. or as part of his plan to "rehabilitate" his pastor persona so he can continue his church "work".

But I am not going to judge him (or anyone else for that matter). If he repents or realised that what he did was wrong, that is for him to realise and come to terms with. It does not affect me in any way.

My only interest in this is understanding human nature. 

I suspect (and I would be happy to be wrong), that he would never repent, never acknowledge that what he did was wrong, never have the epiphany to grow as a person.

Oh I am sure he will have lots of Epiphanies. But those are likely Epiphoneys.

The problem is not just Crossover. It is his whole life, built around a single "talent" (which I personally find dubious, but it seems to impress others).

When you have spent so long faking it, convincing people that you got it, whatever "it" is, it is going to be hard to admit that "it" was just a scam. 

And when you throw religion into the mix, you get to be a martyr when things don't go your way.]

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