Pastor Kong Hee of the Singapore megachurch City Harvest, along with five other church officials, suffered a setback on Monday when they failed to get the case dismissed in court, and will have to answer allegations that they misused millions in church funds to finance the pop-star career of his wife, singer Sun Ho.
The 49-year old pastor, who founded what has become one of the country's largest churches in 1989 as a non-denominational evangelical church, is denying the accusations. The defense lawyers have insisted that the prosecutors haven't shown enough evidence to indicate that a crime has been committed, The Wall Street Journal reported on Monday, though Presiding Judge of the State Courts, See Kee Oon, dismissed the argument.
The other officials on trial include Pastor Tan Ye Peng, members Chew Eng Han and Lam Leng Hung, and accountants Serina Wee Gek Yin and Sharon Tan ShaoYuen, all of whom will face 10-20 years if convicted.
Last month, the prosecution said that church leaders were entrusted with the funds and had full control over them, and that the six church officials had conspired to misuse the 24 million SGD ($19.2 million) in donated money. The defense countered, however, by stating that the church board never passed a resolution that indicated who exactly has the power to make decisions regarding the funds.
Channel News Asia added that the church leaders have said that they will testify in their own defense, though the defense has not yet firmed up its list of witnesses.
Ho has stood by her husband's side, but is not facing charges herself. She was initially dismissed from her position as executive director of the 30,000 member City Harvest Church, but was later re-installed.
WSJ noted that the court case has "stoked debate over the growing wealth and influence of mega-churches in the multireligious city-state, which takes pride in maintaining social harmony with secular policies."
Kong continues to lead City Harvest as senior pastor.
The trial is expected to resume in July.