A Christian evangelical pastor in Singapore is accused of embezzling more than $19 million in church funds to finance his wife’s career as a pop singer, all under the guise of spreading God’s message through her music.
Kong Hee, 47, and five other officials from the City Harvest Church are on trial for hatching a plan to embezzle millions to make his wife Sun Ho, 41, a pop star in the U.S.
Originally accused of siphoning off $19 million, the group allegedly misappropriated another $20 million to cover up the first diversion.
All six of the accused deny the charges. The church claims Ho’s career is part of a “crossover” campaign to spread God’s word to the secular world via her music.
Evidence presented in court showed more than $10 million – “in line with Shakira’s marketing budget and less than the budget for Beyonce” - was earmarked in the church’s budget for Ho’s marketing.
Ho cofounded the evangelical church with her husband in 1989. In 2009 she moved to Los Angeles to begin a career as an English-language singer. Ho’s “China Wine” music video featuring rapper Wyclef Jean has attracted over 1.5 million views on YouTube. According to Strait Times, $1.6 million was spent on production fees for Wyclef Jean.
Ho’s hopes at stardom were reportedly dashed once the scandal broke. Ho is not currently facing any charges herself, according to Raw Story. She has been appearing in court with her husband since the trial began.
Prosecutors claim Kong and his employees channeled money collected by the church to build a new facility into sham bonds in church-linked companies – a scam known as “round-tripping.”
Church accounts were then allegedly falsified to make it appear as though those bonds were redeemed.
The trial, which went to recess on Sept. 20 and will not resume until January 2014, has brought widespread attention to fast-growing mega-churches.
“Whatever’s in fashion, whatever’s stylish, whatever looks cool is used and infused in mega-church practice,” Jeaney Yip, a lecturer at the University of Sydney Business School, told AFP.
“Because of the religious and humanitarian element to giving, I do not think churchgoers generally question or pay attention to how the funds are managed,” she added. “The issue is not in the giving; it is in the management of the funds received that deserves accountability and transparency.”