Thursday, April 29, 2010

City Harvest Church in Singapore expands at a cost of $310 million

And the Jews' passover was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.
And found in the temple those that sold oxen and sheep and doves, and the changers of money sitting:
And when he had made a scourge of small cords, he drove them all out of the temple, and the sheep, and the oxen; and poured out the changers' money, and overthrew the tables;
And said unto them that sold doves, Take these things hence; make not my Father's house an house of merchandise.
John 2:13-16

Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked: Revelation 3:17

City Harvest Church is a megachurch in Singapore with a congregation of about 33,000. In March 2010 the church became co-owner of Suntec Singapore International Exhibition and Convention Centre, a prime piece of downtown real estate. The cost to the church of $310 million includes costs for such things as renovation and rental.

According to senior pastor Kong Hee, as quoted in City News Weekly:

"A church is not just a main sanctuary and nothing else. Having extra facilities is critical to the operations of the church. We need areas for children, rooms for Bible study, car park space and eating places. Suntec Convention Centre has more than 30 meeting rooms, and we will have access to over 8,680 car park lots in the Suntec-Marina area. Between Suntec City and the Convention Centre, there are 283 stalls/restaurants for our members to eat at, and 622 retail stores for our members to shop in."

Deputy senior pastor Tan Ye Ping said that one of the key considerations of the site is the business model that CHC will adopt for the facility:

"For Singapore Expo, we are in a lease-only business model. As such, what is being paid out does not have any returns or profit-sharing for CHC. The Board and the Building Committee discussed and concluded that with an ‘ownership-and-license’ business model, the rent we pay out will be recovered by CHC in the form of profits and dividends."

"It’s perfect for our church," says Tan. "This place has everything we need. It’s been around, it’s an established place. It has been the venue for some of the most important events that ever took place in Singapore, like the APEC CEO Summit last November, and the International Monetary Fund-World Bank meeting in 2006. This August it will be the venue for the 2010 Youth Olympic Games. It’s got all the facilities, and it’s super convenient. There is no other place that allows us this space size in this part of Singapore."

In the event that there are such key events on the same scale as the IMF-World Bank meetings, Tan says City Harvest will exercise flexibility and vacate the space for such clients. "We are now part-owners," he explains. "It benefits us too." Tan points out that although City Harvest will use the space for its services, the building is still a commercial entity, and technically not a "church building". "The church will lease the space to use for our services," explains Tan. "The difference is that we are also co-owners of this building."

A few weeks later the Singapore Commissioner of Charities began investigating CHC's involvement in Suntec Singapore, but the church stated that:

...its shares in the downtown commercial property were not held by the church itself, but by a separate 'special-purpose investment holding company' it wholly owned.

The CHC statement gave no details of the investment company, but said it had acquired 'an indirect minority stake' in the holding company of Suntec Convention Centre. CHC had previously described the stake as 'substantial' and 'significant'.

The church added in the statement that it would be uninvolved in Suntec's daily operations and that it did not have 'exclusive use of any areas'.

On the issue of taxation raised by the public who wanted to know whether CHC's rental income from Suntec would be taxed, the church said its investment holding company was not a charity, and so did not qualify for tax breaks or other concessions.

The deal has attracted some criticism. According to The Straits Times:

At least two megachurches here seem to govern themselves more like private foundations than public charities. While a believer at a typical autonomous, non-denominational church here can opt to become a full voting member of his church, very few - say, 700 out of 30,000 in a megachurch that is an autonomous, non-denominational set-up - may be invited to become voting 'executive members'.

Irked by the Suntec deal, investment banker Simon Teoh, who attends City Harvest, has written to the Commissioner of Charities. He alleges that the church's 12-member management board went ahead 'with utilising the church's building fund ($65 million as of end-October 2009) and committing the church to large future liabilities...without consulting the the recent AGM. No EGM has been scheduled'.

During the Easter weekend services, the church announced:

...that it received a lawyer's letter last Thursday from its fellow investors in the consortium holding a majority stake in Suntec Singapore, reminding it to keep to a non-disclosure agreement in the deal.

The church, which recently invested in the consortium, said some investors in it 'did not appear pleased' that it had given its members information about its stake in the deal.

City Harvest Church has posted its notice to members regarding the non-disclosure agreement.

To see examples of the worldliness of City Harvest Church, go to the Asia-lympics and Competitions page. Among the activities that City Harvest Church promotes are a beauty pageant:

Poise, flair and talent – if you are aged between 18-26 and these are all qualities you can call your own, this competition may just be for you! Flash the crowd a smile, you could just be Miss/Mr Asia Conference 2010! The winner will stand a chance to win cash and attractive prizes worth more than S$3,000! So submit your application through your cell group leader to be notified for the first qualifying round.

...City Harvest's Got Talent:

Let your creativity shine and be part of one of Asia Conference’s most exciting and entertaining competitions! Go solo or form a team of 5 members or less and prepare to showcase your talents on Asia Conference’s stage! The rush of bright lights, applause and spectacular prizes awaits you. Whether a song, dance or music item – the sky’s the limit, you can be a star today with the most original, ingenious and talented performance.

...and on a more spiritual note, there's my favourite, the pulpit design competition:
Design a pulpit that serves the purpose of the Lord’s anointed minister as he delivers God’s Word to bless the congregation. Who knows, your pulpit design creation may very well be used on the stage of a mega church some day!

To see City Harvest Church's charismaniac credentials, look at the areas included in the courses offered at their School of Theology.

HT: Faith and Freedom

October 22, 2015 update: As reported by Associated Press, October 21, 2015:

SINGAPORE – The founder of a popular Singapore church has been found guilty of misappropriating about $35 million in donations to support his wife's singing career in Asia before helping her break into the U.S. market for evangelization purposes.

Kong Hee, the founder and senior pastor of City Harvest Church, was found guilty Wednesday with five other church leaders of stealing 24 million Singapore dollars ($17 million) designated for building and investment-related purposes through sham bond investments. The State Court also found that they used another 25 million dollars ($18 million) to hide the first embezzlement from auditors.

No date for sentencing has been set yet. The penalty for criminal breach of trust is a maximum of life sentence.
HT: Living 4 His Glory

November 20, 2015 update: As reported by BBC News, November 20, 2015 (bold in original):

Six senior officials of Singapore's City Harvest megachurch have been jailed over a $50m Singapore dollar ($35m; £23m) fraud case.

The evangelical church's pastor and founder, Kong Hee, was jailed for eight years - others received between 21 months and six years.

The court ruled last month the group had misused church finances to fund the music career of Kong's wife, Sun Ho.

All denied the charges - the church had supported them during the trial.

State prosecutors said before sentencing it was "the largest amount of charity funds ever misappropriated in Singapore's legal history".

'Wrongful gain'

Known for its slick image and wealth-focused brand of Christianity, City Harvest Church (CHC) has some 17,500 members in Singapore and branches around the world.

In 2002, its launched what it called the Crossover Project - a scheme to evangelise through Ms Ho's music career.

The hope was that songs like China Wine - a tune with rapper Wyclef Jean depicting Ms Ho as a Chinese exotic dancer in Jamaica - would help spread the gospel.

A church-backed music production company aimed at helping her achieve mainstream success in the US was left with millions of dollars in losses when the project failed.

The six were convicted on 21 October of misappropriating S$24m of church funds for the music project, and using another S$26m in an attempt to cover their tracks.

They were found guilty of various counts of criminal breach of trust and falsification of accounts, although the judge accepted that there was no evidence of "wrongful gain" by the defendants themselves.

That lack of personal financial benefit from the fraud meant the judge did not impose the maximum sentences of up to 20 years, local media report.

Ms Ho herself was not prosecuted in connection with the case and did not attend Friday's sentencing.

She recently took over leadership of the church.

Convictions in full

Kong Hee, CHC founder: eight years.

Chew Eng Han, former fund manager for the church: six years.

Tan Ye Peng, deputy senior pastor: five years and six months.

Serina Wee, former finance manager: five years.

John Lam, finance committee member: three years

Sharon Tan, former finance manager: 21 months

All can appeal against their sentences.
HT: Dracul Van Helsing

1 comment:

  1. I notice many people who attends City Harvest Church do not know the spiritual reason why they are there and do what they do there. In a recent interview found on Razor TV, I see that most people who were interviewed gave very suprficial answers. They just beleive that the church is clean and that "pastor" Kong is a hero! To them, it seems that the pastor is the hero and not JESUS CHRIST! Where is their focus?