(Photo: Reuters/Tim Chong)
Kong Hee, pastor and founder of Singapore's City Harvest Church, has been granted permission to travel overseas after attending a Subordinate Court hearing Monday, his third hearing in a trial in which he is accused of misusing $18 million of church funds.
Kong reportedly requested permission to travel overseas so he could move around the Southeast Asia region for pastoral engagements.
The pastor of the Singaporean megachurch is currently out on $500,000 bail. He was arrested in June and accused of "dishonestly misappropriating monies" from the church's building fund to promote and support the pop music career of his wife, Sun Ho, who is in her early 40s.
His charges also include three counts of criminal breach of trust. Kong could face life in prison if found guilty on all three charges.
"I do maintain my integrity, and will rigorously defend that integrity against these charges," Kong, 47, said July 25, according to Singaporean newswire Today Online.
"Sun and I would like to take this opportunity to thank God for all the people who have blessed us with their love, kindness and prayers during this challenging period of time. We have been tremendously humbled by the support and encouragement from the public, family and friends. We especially thank all those from City Harvest Church and the Christian community at large. They have been a constant source of strength," the pastor added.
"I respect the Court proceedings which are underway, and will not make any comment about the charges until the appropriate time and forum," he concluded.
Kong and his wife gained celebrity status in the Southeast Asian country when they founded City Harvest Church in 2001, which has since gained popularity among the country's evangelical Christian population.
After a two-year investigation, the Commercial Affairs Department, which investigates financial crime, claimed 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.
Kong's fellow ministry leaders Pastor Tan Ye Peng, John Lam, Chew Eng Han and Sharon Tanon have also been charged with three counts of criminal breach of trust, while a sixth church executive, City Harvest Church's former finance chief Serina Wee, received 10 criminal charges, including six for a criminal breach of trust and four for falsified records for allegedly helping to transfer funds to Kong's personal accounts.
Kong's case officially begins Aug. 30.