The New Paper reports…
“Travel expenditure that ran into the hundreds of thousands.
Hair, make-up and medical costs that hit more than $100,000.
Although City Harvest Church (CHC) founder Kong Hee and his wife Ho Yeow Sun had struck their names off the church payroll in 2005, they had “love gifts” from a few churchgoers, which paid for such expenses.
As a singer, Ms Ho was earning more than $400,000 a year and this came from these gifts.
But the donors who gave the gifts did not know that Ms Ho had earned so much, Kong admitted in court.
The New Paper on Sunday examined court documents and learnt that the couple earned a total of around $1.4 million from 2006 to 2009 from her music artiste salary, royalties and bonuses.
But this money did not come from her artiste management firms, Xtron Productions and Ultimate Assets, as they wanted to reinvest the earnings back into the companies.
Instead, the monies were transferred to Kong and Ms Ho from a fund known as the multi-purpose account (MPA), made up of “love gifts” from church members, Kong said in court.
The MPA, which was set up in 2006 and closed in 2010, is shrouded in secrecy.
Only a handful of church members who were closest to Kong Hee knew of its existence.
Revelations about the MPA were made during court proceedings.
Kong said in court: “For the MPA, it is more for the livelihood of me and Sun… and for other non-music production expenses in the US because we are off the church’s salary.”
One document showed what the money was spent on in that period – more than $300,000 was spent on travel, more than $100,000 on food and close to $100,000 on hair and make-up.
All these were paid for by around 40 of the couple’s closest supporters, whose regular donations contributed nearly $3 million to the fund from 2006 to 2009.
Some of those who gave “love gifts” cut back on tithes to the church while others stopped completely, according to the Commissioner of Charities (COC) inquiry in 2012.
COC found that about $600,000 was purportedly spent by Kong Hee and $3 million by Sun Ho from the MPA between April 2007 and March 2010.
Kong, who had told the media in 2005 his salary was $8,000 a month before he took himself off the payroll that year, also earned an average of US$360,000 (S$500,000) per year from his speaking engagements. He also made money from merchandise sales.
Globally, love gifts have landed church leaders in trouble over tax evasion and fraud charges.
In Charlotte, US, Reverend Anthony Jinwright and his wife Harriet of the Greater Salem City of God church were jailed in 2009 after their expensive cars and vacations were found to be paid for by “love gifts” from the church.
MPA donor and fellow accused Chew Eng Han accused Kong of being more interested in personal gain than the interests of the church by pointing out discrepancies in the MPA in court.
While most MPA donors have kept silent, The New Paper on Sunday tracked down blogger Lu Jiahui, who claimed to be one.
The mother of three, whose blog is called Mum’s The Word, tells TNPS: “The choice was given to us and it was also explained to us where the money would go.
“I made the decision that it was okay, because this is my money and I know where I want it to go. I gave with my free will. No one forced me to do it.”
She declines to reveal how much she donated to the MPA over the years, but claims it did not affect her tithes to the church.
Ms Lu decided to write about MPA on her blog to defend her former pastor against Chew’s allegations.
“I think I was the only one to come out publicly to say I am an MPA donor. Why? Because if I didn’t, people would just be hearing about it from Eng Han.”
She explains her decision to donate to the account, knowing that it was meant to pay for Kong’s and Sun’s living expenses.
Ms Lu says: “Think about this as though you are contributing to your boss’ birthday and you can give however much you want. Someone sets up a birthday fund for the office and the money is put in there.
“Eventually, whether the money is spent on the birthday cake or the decorations is besides the point. I just know that I gave the money away as a birthday present, and I trust the person to handle it.”