Asia

Singapore jails City Harvest megachurch founder and officials

A combination photo shows the City Harvest Church accused (top-left to bottom-right): Serina Wee, Chew Eng Han, Sharon Tan, Kong Hee, Tan Ye Peng and John Lam Image copyright Reuters
Image caption The convicted (top-left to bottom-right): Serina Wee, Chew Eng Han, Sharon Tan, Kong Hee, Tan Ye Peng and John Lam

Six senior officials of Singapore's City Harvest megachurch have been jailed over a $50m Singapore dollar ($35m; £23m) fraud case.

The evangelical church's pastor and founder, Kong Hee, was jailed for eight years - others received between 21 months and six years.

The court ruled last month the group had misused church finances to fund the music career of Kong's wife, Sun Ho.

All denied the charges - the church had supported them during the trial.

State prosecutors said before sentencing it was "the largest amount of charity funds ever misappropriated in Singapore's legal history".

'Wrongful gain'

Known for its slick image and wealth-focused brand of Christianity, City Harvest Church (CHC) has some 17,500 members in Singapore and branches around the world.

In 2002, its launched what it called the Crossover Project - a scheme to evangelise through Ms Ho's music career.

Image copyright EPA
Image caption The case has attracted considerable media interest in Singapore

The hope was that songs like China Wine - a tune with rapper Wyclef Jean depicting Ms Ho as a Chinese exotic dancer in Jamaica - would help spread the gospel.

A church-backed music production company aimed at helping her achieve mainstream success in the US was left with millions of dollars in losses when the project failed.

The six were convicted on 21 October of misappropriating S$24m of church funds for the music project, and using another S$26m in an attempt to cover their tracks.

They were found guilty of various counts of criminal breach of trust and falsification of accounts, although the judge accepted that there was no evidence of "wrongful gain" by the defendants themselves.

That lack of personal financial benefit from the fraud meant the judge did not impose the maximum sentences of up to 20 years, local media report.

Ms Ho herself was not prosecuted in connection with the case and did not attend Friday's sentencing.

She recently took over leadership of the church.

Convictions in full

  • Kong Hee, CHC founder: eight years.
  • Chew Eng Han, former fund manager for the church: six years.
  • Tan Ye Peng, deputy senior pastor: five years and six months.
  • Serina Wee, former finance manager: five years.
  • John Lam, finance committee member: three years
  • Sharon Tan, former finance manager: 21 months
  • All can appeal against their sentences.

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