City Harvest Church, one of Singapore's largest churches, responded on Thursday to allegations that its pastor and other leaders misused $18 million in church funds. The church insisted that it was not cheated of millions of dollars and said it is standing by its leaders.
"The people currently in the news are our pastors and trusted staff and leaders who have always put God and CHC first," said Aries Zulkarnain, executive pastor and a founding member of the church. "As a church we stand with them and I believe fully in their integrity. Pastor Kong is still our Senior Pastor."
Pastor Kong Hee and four other executives were charged on Wednesday for funneling more than $18 million to his wife's music career. His wife, Ho Yeow Sun or Sun Ho, is an international pop artist.
Kong, Pastor Tan Ye Peng, John Lam, Chew Eng Han and Sharon Tan have been charged with committing criminal breach of trust.
Their arrest earlier this week came after a two-year investigation by Singapore's Commissioner of Charities (COC) and the Commercial Affairs Department of the Singapore police. The COC said it received complaints in early 2010 alleging the misuse of funds.
COC's inquiry revealed that "funds were used with the purported intention to finance Ho Yeow Sun's secular music career to connect with people. There was a concerted effort to conceal this movement of funds from its stakeholders."
The COC suspended eight officers, including Kong and board members, from their church duties.
Zulkarnain denied allegations that the church executives cheated the church of S$50 million.
"This is not accurate," he stated. "The [S]$24 million, which went to investment bonds, was returned to the church in full, with interest. We didn't lose the [S]$24 million, nor did we lose 'another [S]$26.6m' as alleged. The church did not lose any funds in the relevant transactions, and no personal profit was gained by the individuals concerned."
The church also defended its outreach program called the Crossover Project.
"[T]he Crossover Project is not about one person's singing career; it is a mission that is fundamental to the congregation of CHC. The Crossover Project is an outreach that uses Sun Ho's singing and music to engage people and places that would never otherwise hear the Gospel. As a result of the Crossover Project, many churches have grown worldwide and the faith of many has been strengthened," it asserted.
Unhappy with the media's coverage on the case, Bobby Chaw, the pastor in charge of missions at City Harvest Church, commented, "In some instances, they seem to have pre-judged us. We will be dealing with this in due course."
Chaw noted that they have been cooperating with the COC since the case opened two years ago.
He also stated that the church has replaced half of its board with new members and that a "full internal audit" was done.
"[W]e have been putting their recommendations into action, and will continue to do so," he said regarding the audit.
City Harvest Church was founded in 1989 and claims to draw an average of over 23,000 attendees. It reportedly has 49 affiliated churches and six Bible schools all across Asia.
Kong is, meanwhile, a highly sought after speaker around the world. According to the church, he personally withdrew himself from CHC's staff payroll in November 2005 and started his own business.
The executives are out on bail and are due back in court on July 25.
The COC confirmed with City Harvest that Kong will continue to preach at the church.