City Harvest Church founder Kong Hee was released from prison on Thursday (22 August) after serving time for his role in the multi-million dollar scandal of misused church funds.
Release a day before his 55th birthday, the pastor served 2 years and 4 months in prison out of his 3 years and 6 months sentence.
Just before starting his sentence in April 2017, Mr Kong said on Facebook that upon reflection, he has come to terms with what awaits him and that he is “at peace”.
He also said that while he is “saddened” that his appeal was no successful, he was “grateful” that the High Court granted him a fair trial and reduced sentence.
He continued, “I am extremely saddened by the prospect of having to leave my family and church, and yearn to see them again after serving my sentence. However, I am ready to face what is to come with the peace and grace of God in my heart.”
Channel NewsAsia (CNA) reported today that a small group gathered outside Changi Prison, waiting for the pastor’s release.
When asked by reporters for comments as he walked out, the pastor merely shook his head and smiled before entering an awaiting black vehicle.
On their website, City Harvest Church announced their founders released by saying that he had “spent most of his time seeking and studying the things of God”.
The church board and senior management team said, “Pastor thanks you all for your unceasing prayers these last few years, for him and for his family. Your letters brought him comfort and joy.”
They added that Mr Kong will be taking some time now to spend with his family, especially his elderly parents.
The biggest case of its kind in Singapore
Mr Kong was one of six City Harvest Church leaders who were sentenced to jail over the misappropriation of S$50 million in church funds.
The other five are former deputy senior pastor Tan Ye Peng, former finance managers Serina Wee and Sharon Tan, former finance committee member John Lam and former fund manager Chew Eng Han.
Mr Kong was slapped with the longest sentence – 3 years and 6 months in jail – in 2015 after a trial spanning 140 days. Originally, Mr Kong was sentenced to a much longer jail term of 8 years, but the term was significantly reduced on appeal. The jail-terms of the other five convicted were reduced as well.
Mr Kong began serving his sentence on Apr 21, 2017, along with four of his co-accused.
The shortest sentence of 1 year and 9 months reduced to just 7 months was meted out to Ms Sharon Tan. She was the first to finish serving her jail term. Next was Mr Lam who received 1 year and 6 months, followed by Ms Wee who was sentenced to two years and 6 months, and Ms Tan Ye Peng who was given 3 years and 2 months.
The last to begin his prison sentence was Mr Chew who was slapped with 3 years and 4 months at first for his involvement in the church scandal but was then sentenced to an additional 13 months after he was arrested trying to flee the country on a boat. As such, he will end up as the last one to finish serving his sentence.
What was the City Harvest Church scandal?
The City Harvest Church saga was the largest case of misuse of charitable funds in the country so far which was misappropriated and then ‘repaid’ through a number of sham investments and shady transactions. The church miraculously suffered no financial loss.
The money that was misappropriated ended up being used to financial Mr Kong’s wife Sun Ho’s music career and lifestyle to the tune of S$24 million. Another S$26 million was then used to cover up the first amount in order to mislead auditors and hide the unauthorised use of the money which was taken from the church’s building fund.