Pastor allegedly stole $40m for wife's pop star career

8:57am October 8, 2013
October 08, 2013: A Singaporean pastor accused of stealing more than $40 million from a megachurch he founded allegedly used those funds to record a music video made in a bid to promote his wife's pop career.

A Christian pastor in Singapore stands accused of stealing more than $40 million from his own church to fund his wife's singing career.

Kong Hee, 47, the evangelical pastor and founder of the 20,000-strong City Harvest Church, is on trial alongside five other church officials for an alleged scheme to siphon off $20 million to finance his wife Sun Ho's dreams of becoming a pop star in the US.

The accused allegedly misappropriated another $20 million in a bid to cover up the scheme.

Ho, 41, an established Mandarin pop singer who co-founded the megachurch with her husband in 1989, moved to Los Angeles in 2009 to launch an English-language singing career before the scandal scuttled her showbiz ambitions.

Kong was arrested last year on charges of fraud and criminal breach of trust.

Ho does not face any charges herself, but has appeared stoically with her husband for his court appearances as her music videos continue to draw hits on YouTube.

Sun Ho dancing on her video. (YouTube)
Sun Ho dancing on her video. (YouTube)

The video for her song China Wine, in which she dances in a nightclub alongside the rapper Wyclef Jean, has attracted more than one million views so far.

In another video, the reggae-tinged Mr Bill, she plays a skimpily-clad Asian wife who calls herself a geisha and sings about killing her African-American husband, played by the male supermodel Tyson Beckford.

Ho also posed for numerous pictures at exclusive events with American celebrities as part of her image-building campaign.

Evidence reportedly produced in court showed that the church had earmarked more than $10 million as its marketing budget to boost her Hollywood foray.

The Straits Times said the documents also showed more than $1.6 million was spent on production fees for Wyclef Jean.

The church has defended Ho's attempt to become an international music star as part of a crossover campaign to spread God's message to the secular world through pop music.

Sun Ho and Kong Hee outside court in Singapore. (Getty)
Sun Ho and Kong Hee outside court in Singapore. (Getty)

But prosecutors say Kong and his subordinates engaged in a practice called "round-tripping" by channelling money allotted for a church building fund into sham bonds in church-linked companies so they could finance Ho's music career.

They falsified church accounts to make it appear the bonds were redeemed, prosecutors say. All six accused deny the charges.

The trial, which went into recess on September 20 and will resume in January, exposed complex money dealings and drew attention to the financial might of evangelical Christian churches in the largely Buddhist and Taoist city-state.

Jeaney Yip, an Australia-based academic who has studied the marketing methods of fast-growing churches, said they make Christian teachings attractive by drawing on pop culture.

"Whatever's in fashion, whatever's stylish, whatever looks cool is used and infused in megachurch practice," Yip said.

"Because of the religious and humanitarian element to giving, I do not think churchgoers generally question or pay attention to how the funds are managed," said Yip, a lecturer at the University of Sydney Business School. "The issue is not in the giving; it is in the management of the funds received that deserves accountability and transparency."

City Harvest, which has 20,000 followers in Singapore and 49 affiliates in eight Asian territories, acquired a stake in one of the city-state's biggest convention centres in 2010 for $264 million and holds its weekly services there.

Author: Erin Tennant with AFP. Approving editor: Nick Pearson.

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