Former City Harvest fund manager Chew Eng Han: 'I hardly have anything now'
He was the loyal follower who rose quickly through the ranks at City Harvest Church (CHC).
But after Chew Eng Han and five others from the church, including founder Kong Hee, were arrested, that loyalty counted for nothing.
He grilled Kong Hee in court during the trial. He singled out the former pastor for the mess they were in.
He blamed vanity for Kong’s persistence in pursuing his wife’s pop-star ambition.
Chew let fly at in a two hour interview with The New Paper on Sunday.
Chew says he left CHC in 2013 partly because of how Kong Hee and his wife had misled a small group of donors who had been supporting the livelihood of the couple.
He adds that Kong did so by showing the donors “false accounts”.
The money was channelled to a multi-purpose account (MPA), a trust fund that comprised of personal donations — “love gifts” — from about 40 of Kong’s closest supporters, court proceedings showed.
The MPA was used by Kong Hee and Ms Ho, whose stage name was Sun Ho, for their personal expenses including travel, medical bills, hair and make-up.
The New Paper on Sunday had provided a breakdown on Nov 8 based on documents tendered in court.
Chew and his wife had donated “hundreds of thousands” in love gifts to the MPA from 2007 to 2009.
They gave to the MPA because Kong Hee and Ms Ho were “labouring for the Lord” and had announced that they had taken themselves off the CHC payroll in 2005.
“They need to survive. That’s what we think. No salary, poor thing. Let’s donate love gifts.”
They had no idea what the money was used on, or who else contributed to it, as Kong Hee and his subordinates did not reveal the full accounts for the monies from 2007 to 2009 to the donors.
The donors had no issue because the money was meant for the couple anyway, says Chew.
In 2010, Kong Hee held a meeting for all the MPA donors for the first time and presented a spreadsheet showing that the fund was in deficit.
Says Chew: “He wanted more money... So he gives us an impression that the collection from us is not enough to cover the expenses.
“Then, he gave us a form to write down how much more we think we can increase our gifts in the coming year, and the aim was to try to prod us to achieve a certain targeted amount.”
City Harvest Church founder and senior pastor Kong Hee (right) and his wife Ho Yeow Sun at the State Courts on Oct 21, 2015 for the verdict of the CHC trial. TNP FILE PHOTO
It turned out in later investigations that Ms Ho and Kong had been withdrawing more than $400,000 from the MPA as part of Ms Ho’s salary, royalties and bonuses for her music career.
This was not told to the MPA donors during the meeting, as Kong admitted in court that CHC had a practice of keeping its members’ income confidential.
Says Chew: “We had no clue before that first MPA meeting in 2010 that he had been collecting (more than) a million dollars.
“It was emotional (when he showed us the MPA was in deficit). It was like: ‘Poor Pastor Kong, he’s got so much expenses because he is involved in the Crossover Project.’
He says the Commercial Affairs Department questioned fellow accused Serina Wee why she kept two separate spreadsheets on the MPA cash-flow, one to show to the MPA donors and another showing that Sun Ho was paid monies from the account.
Chew says: “She (Wee) said that it was because Sun’s salary is very sensitive. But it should not be sensitive to the 50 of us because we already intended to give to her (Ms Ho) anyway.”
Chew quit the church in February 2013 after 18 years.
He said that ordinary church members who donated to the church, building fund and the Crossover Project sacrificed their own well-being instead.
He recalled a story of a CHC member who donated “a lot” of his earnings to the building fund.
Says Chew: “He came in early to the office to eat biscuits and save money. The office biscuits.
“So, my friend (who was his employer) asked him, why are you eating biscuits every morning? He said that it was so he could sacrifice and give more to the fund.”
Chew personally donated about $600,000 to the building fund and to Sun Ho’s artiste management company, Xtron Productions, in total, according to court proceedings.
He says: “These people are all living difficult lives, you know? Even for myself, for all the earnings I have given, I could have saved or multiplied it for my own children.
“I hardly have anything now, because I believed in this vision, in serving God.”
Kong and Ms Ho did not reply to our repeated requests for comment.
JUDGE: KONG HEE EXPLOITED CHEW
Kong Hee had exploited Chew, said State Courts Presiding Judge See Kee Oon in his written judgement last month.
“Eng Han’s forceful personality, coupled with his determination and drive to achieve his objectives, was recognised and exploited by Kong Hee,” said Judge See.
“They tapped on and fuelled each other’s drive, one as a spiritual leader and the other as a finance expert.
But Chew had his failings too.
The judge found that Chew expected no losses from using the building fund to fund the Crossover Project because he thought “everything in City Harvest that was done, succeeded”.
“That is surely a bold and sweeping exaggeration that gives the lie to the extravagant overconfidence that characterised his conduct and mindset,” he said.
Chew Eng Han first joined City Harvest Church (CHC) in December 1995 after he was introduced to the church by his nephew.
He converted to Christianity that day and rose through the ranks.
He started as a cell group leader in 1997 and became a CHC board member in April 1999.
Chew, 55, said: “(Kong Hee) picked me because I was very dedicated to the church. A very hardworking labourer for God.”
Chew then was also the head of State Street Bank.
“He probably chose me as well because at that time, there were not many professionals working in the church (who were) earning so much money.
“I never felt attracted to the position. To me was just a chance to serve even more effectively.”
The church also experienced a massive swell in its congregation size between 1995 and 1997, he says.
When he joined in 1995, there were just 1,300 members.
That number doubled the following year before increasing to 5,000 in 1997.
“At that time, we were still good. I think it was the presence of God (and) the pure worship. This was 1996, 1997, 1998.
“These three years the atmosphere was pure. The staff were all very hardworking and dedicated to the Kingdom,” he says.
Chew went on to become a key figure in the church’s hunt for a new worship premise as well as the structuring of the Xtron and Firna bonds.
Chew Eng Han questioned the size of the medical expenses chalked up by the couple.
According to court documents, they spent around $140,000 in 2007, and around $180,000 in 2008 and 2009 on medical bills.
“I only see one issue of Kong and Sun who were living it up. But when they presented the MPA (to us), they make it seem like they are so sacrificial and are having a hard time,” says Chew.
Former CHC member Jean Jacques Lavigne tells TNP that he believes the way MPA was dealt with remained a sore point for him till today.
He left the church in 2013 after being a member for 15 years. By then, he had already donated a “five-figure sum” to support Kong believing that it had gone into the MPA.
This was on top of his regular tithes and donations to the church and the building fund.
Says Mr Lavigne, a CEO of a superyacht firm: “When he comes to the givers, he would say, ‘Oh you are so good to me, dear MPA givers, this is how much you gave me. But I’m spending so much. Could you give a bit more?’ So, people give a bit more.”
But he did not know that Sun Ho had been drawing out around $400,000 as royalties, bonuses and salaries every year.
He only found out when Chew told him about it.