City Harvest Church founder Kong Hee walked free from Changi Prison this morning after serving a portion of his three-and-a-half-year sentence for misappropriating millions of dollars from the megachurch.
The church’s senior pastor spent about two years and four months inside, with his early release courtesy of Singapore’s remission system for prisoners, which allows offenders to be released after serving two-thirds of their sentence.
Kong was convicted along with five other church leaders in October 2015 for their involvement in misusing S$50 million (about US$36 million) worth of church funds. His original sentence of eight years was significantly reduced following an appeal at the high court in April 2017.
In a statement celebrating his release, the church said that the pastor would be “taking a period to spend time with his family, especially his elderly parents.”
Kong’s release came just a day ahead of his 55th birthday, reports said, which is also the age when Singaporeans become eligible to withdraw some cash from their Central Provident Fund’s retirement savings account (talk about perfect timing).
Appearing thinner than usual, Kong, who was wearing a white polo T-shirt and a black cap, was greeted by cameras as he walked out of prison and towards a black car.
The other church leaders jailed in connection with the case were former fund manager Chew Eng Han, former finance committee member John Lam, former deputy senior pastor Tan Ye Peng, and former finance managers Serina Wee and Sharon Tan. Of those five, only Chew remains behind bars.
All six were accused of using S$24 million from the church building funds between 2007 and 2009 to advance the music career of Kong’s wife, Ho Yeow Sun, aka Sun Ho (yup, the voice behind reggae-rap tune China Wine).
To cover up that amount, another S$26.6 million was pilfered.
They were arrested in June 2012 following investigations by the Commissioner of Charities and the Commercial Affairs Department. The trial took over two years.