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Recent media reporting on Phil Pringle’s secrecy and culture of insecurity at C3 Church Kong Hee’s secrecy and culture of insecurity at City Harvest Church.

Today Online writes,

CHC slammed for ‘secrecy, culture of insecurity’

SINGAPORE — Criticising what he called the culture of insecurity that six City Harvest Church leaders convicted on Wednesday operated under, Presiding Judge of the State Courts See Kee Oon saved some of his strongest words for church founder Kong Hee in his 270-page written judgment released to the media yesterday.

The six leaders — Kong, his deputy Tan Ye Peng, former church accountant Serina Wee, former church investment manager Chew Eng Han, former finance manager Sharon Tan and former church board member John Lam — were found guilty on all of counts of criminal breach of trust and/or falsification of accounts.

Judge See had delivered his oral judgment, a condensed version of the written grounds, on Wednesday. He found that they had acted dishonestly and in breach of the trust reposed in them to cause wrongful loss of S$50 million to the church and to defraud auditors.

In his judgment grounds, the judge wrote that Kong capitalised on the church climate of paranoia and fear in 2003 to galvanise support for the Crossover Project — using his wife Ho Yeow Sun’s secular pop music to reach out to non-Christians. The collective fear arose after then-church member Roland Poon publicly commented that church funds had been used to promote Ms Ho’s music career.

Kong’s response to the incident revealed “both his personal dominance and deep insecurity”, said JC See. The pastor rallied the church “around the big idea that they (i.e. CHC’s leaders and by extension the entire church) were being maligned and under attack, and hence had to be discreet,” he added.

“He convinced them that if CHC’s leaders believed they had to be discreet in order for the Crossover to succeed, then they ought to simply trust them and not question their motives or reasons.”

The effort to keep the church’s financing of the Crossover discreet led to the set-up of Xtron Productions to manage Ms Ho’s career. The criminal charges in this case relate in part to sham bonds worth millions of dollars that the church bought from Xtron to channel church funds to the Crossover.

All six leaders’ committed zeal for the Crossover vision may have clouded their objectivity and judgment and obscured the need to safeguard money which was not theirs to use as they wished, said judge See. They chose to create cover stories and clever round-trips concealing their unlawful conduct, he added.

“The allure of power that can be exercised in secrecy is difficult to resist. When shrouded under a cloak of invisibility, much like the mythical ring of Gyges, persons in such positions of power have no fear of accountability and tend to become their own worst enemies,” he wrote.

The ring of Gyges is a mythical artefact that grants its owner the power to become invisible at will, mentioned in Greek philosopher Plato’s The Republic.

Judge See wrote: “It has thus been wisely said that the real tragedy is when men are afraid of the light, and if they choose not to come into the light they do so for fear that their deeds will be exposed, as they surely will in time.”

Kong would not have been able to act alone and could not orchestrate every move, and the five other leaders were both trusted and trusting, he added. They wanted to ensure their conduct and choices lived up to Kong’s expectations.

Noting that none of the six was aware of all the details, the judge said it could be because there were far too many moving parts in the plan for the Crossover to the United States, which grew more ambitious over time.

The US foray involved Ms Ho’s debut English album, which had hip-hop star Wyclef Jean roped in at one point. It led to the church’s sham bond investments worth S$24 million in Xtron and another company, and four of the leaders then misused another S$26.6 million of church funds to try to cover up the first amount.

“But this may have also been the inevitable consequence of CHC’s election to carry out its affairs and operations relating to the funding of the Crossover in a discreet fashion. This was merely a euphemism for a culture of insecurity mired in secrecy and opaqueness where asking difficult or awkward questions was taboo,” the judge wrote.

There was no way that Kong – who the judge found to have controlled Xtron – could fail to realise that once CHC had bought Xtron bonds that the bond proceeds would be “entirely within his control”.

Judge See also noted that Kong had sought to mislead a different set of auditors, Ernst & Young (since renamed EY), who were conducting a governance review of CHC on behalf of the Government towards the end of 2007. Kong helped prepare replies to questions that the auditors might ask, and the church would have told auditors that Xtron’s directors were separate and independent of the church board – which he knew was untrue, said judge See.

He also said Kong exploited Chew’s forceful personality and his determination and drive to achieve objectives, although Chew also glossed over the fact that he himself had bought Ms Ho’s Mandarin albums when he blamed Kong for deceiving him about the true measure of her success.

Separately, Kong broke his silence on the verdict yesterday, posting on Facebook his belief that God would use the outcome of the case for good. The pastor also thanked his supporters and said: “The days and steps ahead are challenging, but with God’s grace and love, I have no fear.”

The six will be back in court on Nov 20, where they could be sentenced.

Source: By Neo Chai Chin, CHC slammed for ‘secrecy, culture of insecurity’, Today Online, http://www.todayonline.com/singapore/chc-slammed-secrecy-culture-insecurity?singlepage=true, Published 11:33 PM, 22/10/2015, Updated 10:10 AM, 23/102015. (Accessed 25/10/2015.)