Singapore slashes prison sentence for showbiz pastor

PUBLISHED : Friday, 07 April, 2017, 2:45pm
UPDATED : Friday, 07 April, 2017, 9:49pm

The head of a wealthy Singaporean Christian church who spent US$35 million in congregation funds on a failed bid to promote his wife’s music career had his jail term slashed on appeal on Friday.

The case, which involved raunchy music videos featuring celebrities like rapper Wyclef Jean alongside the wife of City Harvest Church’s leader Kong Hee, originally saw the senior pastor handed an eight-year jail term.

But Singapore’s High Court halved the 52-year-old’s 2015 sentence for misusing around S$50 million (US$35.6 million) in church funds in the failed attempt to turn Sun, also a pastor, into a global pop star.

The case was described by state prosecutors as the largest misappropriation of charity funds in Singapore’s legal history.

Prosecutors had argued that Kong should be jailed for 11 to 12 years, but the high court on Friday sentenced him to three years and six months in jail.

Five other leaders at the glitzy megachurch, which used pop music to attract members and boost donations, also saw their original prison sentences reduced by the court ruling.

Sun, 44, was never charged with any crime.

A district court in 2015 convicted all six church leaders of fraud for diverting S$24 million from the church building fund to help Sun, a Mandarin pop singer, break into the global English-language market.

They were also found guilty of misappropriating another S$26 million to cover their tracks with a complex web of sham financial transactions.

Sun moved to Los Angeles in 2009 where she starred in several racy videos, including China Wine, which featured Jean and was widely viewed – and ridiculed – on YouTube.

Her showbiz ambitions were scuttled by the financial scandal.

Appeals court judge Chao Hick Tin said the prison terms were cut as the six had acted in what they felt were the best interests of the church.

“The project was endorsed by the body of CHC,” the judge said.

Tiny Singapore is one of the world’s most affluent nations. Despite being a largely Buddhist and Taoist society, the city-state is home to well-funded Christian groups.