The founder of City Harvest Church and five associates have been convicted of misappropriating millions in donations from congregants. The funds were instead used to finance a pop album made by the founder's wife.
In a rare corruption case in Singapore, six leaders of the City Harvest megachurch have been found guilty of embezzling 35 million US dollars (30 million euros). Church founder Kong Hee, his deputy, and four church financial chiefs were discovered to be misappropriating religious donations to support Kong's wife's singing career.
Each were found guilty of three to ten counts ranging from criminal breach of trust to falsicification of accounts.
Local news reported that the presiding judge found the six "inextricably tangled" in using 24 million Singapore dollars from the City Harvest Church building fund to buy sham bond investments, and a further 26 million was used hide the initial amount from auditors.
The sham investment money was instead funneled into promoting the pop music career of Ho Yeow Sun, also called Sun Ho. Kong tried to argue in court that Ho's music was part of a church project to use secular songs to bring people into the church.
Ho has worked with hip-hop artists like Wyclef Jean and been moderately successful in dance club charts, but critics said her suggestive videos and lyrics have little to do with Christianity.
Judge rejects claims of 'pure' motives
Judge See Kee Oon said he did not believe Kong's claim that he had planned to redeem the bonds with Ho's album sales, which would have made the investments genuine.
"No matter how pure the motives and how ingrained the trust in leaders, these do not exonerate the accused persons," See was quoted as saying by Singapore-based English language news outlet TODAYonline.
A statement from Ho on behalf of City Harvest Church said they were "disappointed by the outcome," but thanked their congregation for support. "God is making us stronger," Ho wrote.
Churchgoers had waited in line overnight to secure a courtroom seat for the verdict.
The six will be sentenced at a later hearing. Embezzlement and criminal breach of trust can carry life sentences, up to twenty years in jail, or hefty fines.
es/rg (AP, dpa)