Kong Hee, the founder of City Harvest Church in Singapore, has told his congregation that he is 'deeply sorry' for the pain they had to go through after he and others from the church were sentenced to jail for misuse of funds.
Kong Kee and five other church leaders were found guilty in 2015 of misappropriating 50 million Singaporean dollars – around £28 million. The money was used to support the music career of his wife Sun Ho, one of the church's pastors. Kong and the other defendants claimed it was a legitimate church ministry and that it was an appropriate use of the funds.
It is Singapore's is largest ever misuse of charitable funds scandal.
Their sentences were deferred pending appeal, and were reduced on Friday. The severity of the charge against the six defendants was also reduced.
Kong Hee made his apology to his congregation at the City Harvest Church's first English-speaking service of the weekend on Saturday, Straits Times reported.
The day after he heard his sentence was cut from eight years to three years and six months, he pleaded for forgiveness.
'I've so much to say but if I can sum it up in one sentence, pastor wants to say: I'm so sorry for all the hurt, all the disappointment and all the painful ordeals you've been through.
'I really, really, really wish that I was and am a better, wiser, leader. Pastor is deeply sorry and sincerely asks for your forgiveness. Please forgive me.'
He added: 'It has been a privilege to be your pastor. For many of you, I have pastored you since the day of your youth. It's been the greatest privilege of my life. That's all I have to say.'
His wife and 10 other church leaders joined him on the stage.
He said he had learned many lessons from the episode, and also warned it might be the last time for a while that he would be able to address them. He was confident of the church's new leadership and the good corporate governance it had introduced.
Kong's lawyer Edwin Tong has argued that the pastor has not personally gained from any of the money he is accused of taking, that every penny was used for mission and that the church had suffered no financial loss. The prosecution does not dispute this. Tong has said: 'It is beyond question that the accused believed wholeheartedly that they were using church funds for an approved church purpose.'
As well as their sentences being reduced, in a split decision, the court also allowed their appeals against conviction and found them guilty on a less serious charge of criminal breach of trust, Business Times reported.
Delivering their decision, the judges said the six defendants did not benefit from any personal gains, and that they believed that their acts, especially the sham investment charges, would advance the interests of their church by allowing them to evangelise through their Crossover project.
Business Times records that Chew Eng Han, former City Harvest Church fund manager, will now face three years four months in jail, reduced from six years previously. Tan Ye Peng, deputy senior pastor, received three years two months, reduced from five and a half years. Serina Wee, former CHC finance manager, received two years six months, reduced from 5 years. Sharon Tan, former CHC finance manager, received seven months, reduced from 21 months. John Lam, former CHC finance committee member, received one year six months, reduced from three years.
They have all requested further deferment before serving their jail terms.