City Harvest Church's pastor Kong Hee apologised to his congregation this weekend after the guilty verdict in his trial for fraud.
According to the Asia One news service, on Sunday morning Kong faced a crowded auditorium at the Suntec convention centre, bowed and said, "Pastor is sorry". He had used the same words at a service on Saturday night.
Kong, his deputy pastor Tan Ye Peng, finance manager Sharon Tan and former finance manager Serina Wee, were found guilty with former board members John Lam and Chew Eng Han of misusing $17 million from the church's building fund to further the music career of Kong's wife Ho Yeow Sun, known as Sun Ho. A further $18.5 million was used to cover up the scheme through a complicated system of bond issues and 'round-tripping' transactions in which the church used its own money to pay debt owed to it.
The funds were used to support Sun Ho's career through CHC's 'Crossover Project', aimed at promoting a Christian voice in the secular music industry – a mission tactic familiar in the West but far less so in the East.
Kong could face as long as 20 years in prison.
Another website, Mothership.sg, quoted extensively from Kong's address. He told the congregation: "I understand that what I'm about to say has already been widely reported in the local media, since last night. But nevertheless I think it's important for me as your senior pastor to express my heart to you this morning. So even if you have heard it, give me a chance to say it.
"Over the last few days, many of you have asked me 'Pastor, how have you been?' I've received hundreds of text messages, emails, and of course I am saddened with the outcome of the trial. But this I do want to say.
"You have suffered much over the past few years because of your commitment to City Harvest Church. And your commitment to me. I am so sorry for all the pain and the turmoil you have had to endure under my leadership, under my watch. You have had to answer questions, and criticisms from family, from friends, from colleagues.
"Pastor is so very sorry. So so sorry. That you have to endure through all this under my leadership."
He bowed three times in different directions as the congregation stood and applauded.
Kong told the congregation that the church's future was secure, "because of you and the new leadership that has been put in place". He added: "Out of the ashes, we will rise."
The church's executive pastor Aries Zulkarnain showed extracts from the judge's ruling on screens. The first acknowledged that the six who were found guilty "loved CHC" and believed they were using church funds for an evangelistic purpose of which the congregation would approve. The second said that they had known they were using the funds in a way they were not legally entitled to do and referred to the "element of dishonesty" in their conduct.
Zulkarnain said: "While we may not understand the full meaning of this judgement, one thing to know is that the judge acknowledged that the motive of the six was their love for the church and they believed they were using church funds for an evangelistic purpose." He said that the church would improve its governance.
American pastor A R Bernard, founder of the New York-based Christian Cultural Centre, preached at the service, focusing on remaining faithful in spite of difficulties.
Kong and his wife Sun Ho closed the service with a song. Sun Ho said: "Thank you for being here, for being courageous and supportive. Thank you for your love. It has made a difference for all of us and our family members. Thank you, thank you, thank you."