Singapore's City Harvest Church founder pastor Kong Hee and five other church leaders on trial were found guilty of having misused close to $35 million in donation funds by Judge See Kee Oon on Wednesday.
The Straits Times reported that Kong, 51; deputy senior pastor Tan Ye Peng, 42; former CHC fund manager Chew Eng Han, 55; former CHC finance managers Serina Wee, 38; Sharon Tan, 40, and former CHC finance committee member John Lam, 47, have all been found guilty of funnelling more than $35.5 million in church donations to support the popstar career of Kong' wife, Sun Ho.
"Each of them participated and functioned in their own way as crucial cogs in the machinery," said the judge.
The church leaders were found guilty of sham bond investing through the management company Xtron, which used the money to fund Ho's career.
"They claim that they believed the Xtron bonds were genuine investments. They believed the Xtron bonds would bring CHC financial return," the judge continued. "But on my evaluation of the evidence I consider that the prosecution has proved beyond a reasonable doubt that they did not hold that belief."
The defense had argued that Xtron is a legitimate company handling Ho's career on its own, but the prosecution presented evidence that CHC leadership controlled the company, and used it as a conduit for money that went into the pop singer's career.
The CHC leaders face up to 20 years in prison for the crime, though a sentencing date has not yet been announced.
Ho, who wasn't trialed herself in the case, posted a statement on behalf of the CHC Management Board, noting that Kong and the other leaders are "disappointed" by the outcome.
"As was the case throughout these past three years of court trial, and the earlier two years of investigation, we have placed our faith in God and trust that whatever the outcome, He will use it for our good (Romans 8:28). This protracted season has been extremely difficult, not just for the six, but also for all their families and friends, as well as for our congregation," Ho wrote.
She thanked followers for the "tremendous outpouring of love and support," and asked for continued prayers for the CHC leaders who have been found guilty.
Kong had argued that the church supported Ho only through its "Crossover" project, which aimed to spread the Gospel to people around the world through his wife's music.
Judge See insisted, however, that the "perceived success of Crossover was inflated," and that millions of church funds went into Xtron, operating under the "unrealistic projection" that Ho's planned U.S. album could sell more than 200,000 copies.
"It may be arguable that all of them thought they were not acting dishonestly to cause wrongful loss since no permanent loss was intended, but this was premised on their unquestioning trust and belief in Kong Hee and their confidence that the Crossover would succeed," the judge added of the accused.
"Thus they convinced themselves that it was both morally and legally permissible to temporarily use the money from CHC's funds when they knew it was not."
Kong and Ho founded CHC in 1989, leading it to grow into one of Singapore's largest megachurches, with a membership of close to 25,000 people.