Megachurch pastor Kong Hee of City Harvest Church in Singapore was officially charged Wednesday for allegedly misusing $18 million in church funds to support his wife's pop music singing career.
Pastor Kong, who was arrested along with fellow ministry members Pastor Tan Ye Peng, John Lam, Chew Eng Han and Sharon Tanon on June 26, has been charged with three counts of "criminal breach of trust."
As Kong, 47, somberly listened to his charges on Wednesday, several of his supporters gathered inside and outside of the courtroom.
The megachurch pastor left the courthouse with his wife by his side, ignoring the media as he exited.
City Harvest Church is reportedly of one of Singapore's largest churches, with a membership of 30,000. It is listed as a charity, according to The Associated Press, similar to churches in the U.S.
As Al Jazeera reports, the court accused Kong of "dishonestly misappropriating monies" from the church's building fund to promote and support the pop music career of wife Ho Yeow Sun, who is in her early 40s.
Sun has not been arrested, but has been dismissed from her status as an executive member of the church board.
After a two-year investigation, the Commercial Affairs Department, which investigates financial crime, found that Kong had allegedly been making "sham transactions" by allocating massive amounts of money to "purported bond investments," which were then being funneled into Sun's accounts.
Previous reports in Singaporean media indicate that Sun is claiming that she was going to use her international rock star status to spread the Word of God, according to Al Jazeera.
Associate Professor Mak Yuen Teen from the National University of Singapore Business School told Channel News Asia that one reason the alleged scam became so exorbitantly expensive was because the church gave too much power to Kong and his wife.
"If you look at this organization, you can see that the board was dominated by people who were essentially employees of the church. So, the question therefore is where is the check and balances in place," he told Channel News Asia.
"The board was not really independent of the management of the organization. This case is also complex because you do have a number of individuals who are implicated in this case. So, if you have a number of individuals involved, it can make it a bit more difficult to detect and the risk becomes much higher in terms of governance," he added.
Kong and his wife have gained minor celebrity status in the country since they started their church in 2001, and many of members of the public continue to support him amid the allegations.
"Kong is known throughout Asia as a dynamic speaker, communicating the message of faith in a very relevant and contemporary way. He has a strong vision to train 21st century leaders who would plant strong local churches everywhere in Asia," the City Harvest Church's official website states.
Kong could face life in prison if found guilty. He, along with the other four ministry members, is currently out on bail with their passports impounded.
According to the church's website, the church itself has not been accused of misconduct and is freely allowed to continue its worship services.