SINGAPORE: Five members of City Harvest Church (CHC), including its founder Pastor Kong Hee, have been arrested for alleged criminal breach of trust and falsification of accounts of the church.
The other four members are Tan Ye Peng, Lam Leng Hung, Chew Eng Han and Sharon Tan.
The five were questioned by the Commercial Affairs Department (CAD) on Tuesday. Kong Hee was seen leaving the Police Cantonment Complex at 4pm. The five will be charged in court on Wednesday.
CAD said it commenced an investigation on 31 May 2010 into certain financial transactions of CHC after receiving information of misuse of church funds.
The Commissioner of Charities (COC) began its inquiry into the charity on the same day under the Charities Act over alleged misconduct and mismanagement of the building fund which had been raised and earmarked for specific purposes.
The COC said financial irregularities of at least S$23 million from the charity's funds had been discovered. These funds were used with the purported intention to finance the music career of Ho Yeow Sun, who is Pastor Kong's wife and co-founder of the church.
The COC found that there was a concerted effort to conceal this movement of funds from the charity's stakeholders, saying it is concerned about the misconduct and mismanagement in the administration of the charity.
With the consent of the Attorney General, the COC has suspended eight persons, including the five arrested on Tuesday, from the exercise of their office or employment as governing board members. The other three are Ho Yeow Sun, Kelvin Teo Meng How and Tan Su Pheng Jacqueline.
All eight have been suspended from their executive memberships in the charity with immediate effect.
The COC said it will also consider taking further courses of action against these individuals in order to protect the charity. This may include the removal of these persons from their office as trustee, governing board members, officers, agents or employees of the charity.
With the suspension, the eight persons will be prohibited from taking part or being involved in managing or representing the charity on any matters, or attending any of the charity's Annual General Meetings, Extraordinary General Meetings and Board Meetings.
Associate Professor Mak Yuen Teen from the National University of Singapore Business School said the misconduct is partly due to poor corporate governance in the organisation.
He said: "If you look at this organisation, you can see that the board was dominated by people who were essentially employees of the church. So, the question therefore is where is the check and balances in place.
"The board was not really independent of the management of the organisation. This case is also complex because you do have a number of individuals who are implicated in this case. So, if you have a number of individuals involved, it can make it a bit more difficult to detect and the risk becomes much higher in terms of governance."
Meanwhile, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Home Affairs Teo Chee Hean has stressed that the charges filed by CAD are against the five individuals from the City Harvest Church regarding the use of church funds.
He said the charges are not filed against CHC itself and the church is free to continue its church services and activities.
Mr Teo added that CAD carries out investigations when it receives information that a criminal offence may have been committed.
CAD had previously investigated the National Kidney Foundation and Ren Ci.
As the matter is now before the courts, Mr Teo said the law should be allowed to take its course and the public should avoid speculation or making pre-judgements that may unnecessarily stir up emotions.
Religious charitable organisations Channel NewsAsia spoke with said they hope the public will not abandon the spirit of giving, despite the arrest of some City Harvest Church leaders.
Religious groups said it is important to have integrity and to exercise caution when managing donations or helping people.
Tan Thiam Lye, chairman of the Singapore Taoist Federation, said: "As a religious group, we have to define our roles clearly. For example, in areas like finance and administration - to divide tasks clearly. If you have one person to do all tasks, people will think we are not transparent."
Low Swee Seh, CEO of the Buddhist Compassion Relief Tzu-Chi Foundation, said that proper procedures are in place before an assessment is made on where donations go to.
He said: "When we help needy families, our whole team visits the family, assesses their situation, income and expenditure. We come back and have two meetings and will discuss if the family really needs our help." - CNA/al/wm/ac
COC PRESS STATEMENT
INQUIRY FOUND MISCONDUCT AND MISMANAGEMENT
IN THE CITY HARVEST CHURCH
Commissioner of Charities suspends governing board members, trustees, employees, agents and Executive members under the Charities Act.