Singapore—After spending two years and four months in jail, Kong Hee, the founder of City Harvest Church, was released from prison in the late morning hours of August 22, Thursday.
Mr Kong, along with several others from City Harvest Church, was convicted of misusing millions of dollars of church funds.
It is customary for detainees to serve two-thirds of their sentences before they are released. Mr Kong received a sentence of three and a half years, which is the lengthiest of all the sentences given to the six church leaders for their involvement in the misappropriation of some S$50 million of the church’s money.
Mr Kong declined to make a statement upon leaving the jail, according to a report from Channel NewsAsia, but City Harvest Church published an announcement on its website today, thanking the “Church Family” for their support and telling them of their pastor’s release from jail.
According to the announcement, Mr Kong will take some time to be with his family, “especially his elderly parents,” and asked that he, his wife Sun and their son Dayan and his parents be in their prayers.
It also said that Mr Kong “spent most of his time seeking and studying the things of God,” while incarcerated.
He was released from jail one day before his 55th birthday. Mr Kong’s sentence had been reduced from eight years, and the other church leaders had their terms similarly shortened. These are Tan Ye Peng, the church’s former deputy senior pastor; Serina Wee and Sharon Tan, City Harvest’s former finance managers; John Lam, former finance committee member, and Chew Eng Han, former fund manager.
These six individuals, including Mr Kong, received sentences in 2015 of between 21 months and eight years. These sentences were reduced later when appeals were filed.
Singapore was scandalised when news of the misappropriation of funds broke out, and to date, it remains the biggest case of misuse of charitable funds in the country’s history.
Twenty-four million dollars from the funds was used to finance the musical career of Sun Ho, the wife of Mr Hong, with the remainder used to cover up this misappropriation and to deceive auditors about it.
The pastor and four others from the group (Ms Tan, Mr Lam, Ms Wee and Mr Tan Ye Peng) went to jail on April 21, 2017, all of whom are now free. Ms Tan was released after seven months. Mr Lam was given one and a half years in jail, Ms Wee, two and a half years, and Mr Tan Ye Peng, three years and two months’ jail term.
The last of the convicted church leaders, Mr Chew, began his sentence of three years and four months later than the others. He attempted to leave Singapore via sampan one day before he was set to begin serving his sentence. Because of this additional offence, he was given an additional 13 months in jail.
The six individuals underwent a 140-day trial, having been charged and ultimately convicted of criminal breach of trust as agents under Section 409 of the Penal Code in 2015.
In order to protect the assets of City Harvest Church, the Commissioner of Charities (COC) permanently barred Mr Kong and the five other leaders from holding management positions in the church or any other charitable organization in 2017. They have also been banned from being hired by City Harvest without the approval of the Commissioner.
Despite the scandal, City Harvest Church is still one of the top richest charities based on donations received in 2018. -/TISG