World | Asia

October 21, 2015

Singapore Megachurch Leaders Hit a Sour Note in Pop Music Fraud Case

The co-founder of a Singapore church and five other leaders were convicted of multi-million dollar fraud on Wednesday for diverting money to support his wife's pop singing career, a rare fall from grace in the tightly regulated city-state.

The mix of money, faith and scandal in the case has fascinated the public in affluent Singapore, where such cases are rare under a system with little tolerance for corruption.

Senior pastor Kong Hee heads City Harvest Church, one of a growing number of Singapore's megachurches preaching "prosperity gospel" that blends spiritual and material aspirations. 

The churches have ambitions to turn Singapore into a center for evangelical Christianity and to export their faith to the world. Kong was arrested and charged in 2012 with criminal breach of trust and falsifying accounts.

The six church officials were convicted of diverting nearly S$51 million ($37 million) in funds to advance the career of Kong's wife, Ho Yeow Sun.

"There is no doubt that they had something to hide ... They knew they were acting dishonestly," Judge See Kee Oon said in convicting the six in the Singapore subordinate court.

Ho has focused on the Mandarin pop market and has released albums, including "Embrace", through Warner Music Taiwan.

A video from an English-language single, "China Wine", shows her dancing intimately with rapper Wyclef Jean, sparking criticism that she had betrayed her calling as a Christian pastor.

Ho, the co-founder and executive director of the church, was not charged in the case.

The church, which had around 17,000 members last year, has stuck by its leader. It held a prayer session for Kong and others on Tuesday night and Ho issued a message of support after the court ruling.

"Thank you for your unwavering faithfulness in loving God and loving one another. More than ever before, let’s have a unity that is unbreakable," she said on the church website.

Text by Reuters
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