Saturday, June 30, 2012

Understanding City Harvest Church's Prosperity Gospel

To understand why the prosperity gospel as preached by Kong Hee of the City Harvest Church is not biblical, watch John Piper, a Christian (Calvinist) preacher and author, here:

(Kong Hee's prosperity preaching and blatant distortion of biblical teaching are well documented in Kong Hee said what? See here and here also.)

For a detailed biblical critique of properity gospel as preached by the influencial Joel Osteen of Lakewood Church in Houston, Texas (where Joseph Prince, senior pastor of New Creation Church, another Singapore megachurch, preached in 2011 [youtube]), watch the following film:


A Christian position on Prosperity Gospel

From the Lausanne Theology Working Group, Africa chapter at its consultations in Akropong, Ghana, 8-9 October, 2008 and 1-4 September 2009 (source)

NOTE: This is a statement, offered as a discussion starter for further reflection (theological, ethical, pastoral and missiological, socio-political and economic) on the phenomenal rise of prosperity teaching around the world at large and Africa in particular.

We define prosperity gospel as the teaching that believers have a right to the blessings of health and wealth and that they can obtain these blessings through positive confessions of faith and the "sowing of seeds" through the faithful payments of tithes and offerings. We recognize that prosperity teaching is a phenomenon that cuts across denominational barriers. Prosperity teaching can be found in varying degrees in mainstream Protestant, Pentecostal as well as Charismatic Churches. It is the phenomenon of prosperity teaching that is being addressed here not any particular denomination or tradition.

We further recognize that there are some dimensions of prosperity teaching that have roots in the Bible, and we affirm such elements of truth below. We do not wish to be exclusively negative, and we recognize the appalling social realities within which this teaching flourishes and the measure of hope it holds out to desperate people. However, while acknowledging such positive features, it is our overall view that the teachings of those who most vigorously promote the 'prosperity gospel' are false and gravely distorting of the Bible, that their practice is often unethical and unChristlike, and that the impact on many churches is pastorally damaging, spiritually unhealthy, and not only offers no lasting hope, but may even deflect people from the message and means of eternal salvation. In such dimensions, it can be soberly described as a false gospel.

We call for further reflection on these matters within the Christian Church, and request the Lausanne movement to be willing to make a very clear statement rejecting the excesses of prosperity teaching as incompatible with evangelical biblical Christianity.

1. We affirm the miraculous grace and power of God, and welcome the growth of churches and ministries that demonstrate them and that lead people to exercise expectant faith in the living God and his supernatural power. We believe in the power of the Holy Spirit.

However, we reject as unbiblical the notion that God's miraculous power can be treated as automatic, or at the disposal of human techniques, or manipulated by human words, actions or rituals.

2. We affirm that there is a biblical vision of human prospering, and that the Bible includes material welfare (both health and wealth) within its teaching about the blessing of God. This needs further study and explanation across the whole Bible in both Testaments. We must not dichotomize the material and the spiritual in unbiblical dualism.

However, we reject the unbiblical notion that spiritual welfare can be measured in terms of material welfare, or that wealth is always a sign of God's blessing (since it can be obtained by oppression, deceit or corruption), or that poverty or illness or early death, is always a sign of God's curse, or lack of faith, or human curses (since the Bible explicitly denies that it is always so)

3. We affirm the biblical teaching on the importance of hard work, and the positive use of all the resources that God has given us—abilities, gifts, the earth, education, wisdom, skills, wealth, etc. And to the extent that some Prosperity teaching encourages these things, it can have a positive effect on people's lives. We do not believe in an unbiblical ascetism that rejects such things, or an unbiblical fatalism that sees poverty as a fate that cannot be fought against.

However, we reject as dangerously contradictory to the sovereign grace of God, the notion that success in life is entirely due to our own striving, wrestling, negotiation, or cleverness. We reject those elements of Prosperity Teaching that are virtually identical to 'positive thinking' and other kinds of 'self-help' techniques.

We are also grieved to observe that Prosperity Teaching has stressed individual wealth and success, without the need for community accountability, and has thus actually damaged a traditional feature of African society, which was commitment to care within the extended family and wider social community.

4. We recognize that Prosperity Teaching flourishes in contexts of terrible poverty, and that for many people, it presents their only hope, in the face of constant frustration, the failure of politicians and NGOs, etc., for a better future, or even for a more bearable present. We are angry that such poverty persists and we affirm the Bible's view that it also angers God and that it is not his will that people should live in abject poverty. We acknowledge and confess that in many situations the Church has lost its prophetic voice in the public arena.

However, we do not believe that Prosperity Teaching provides a helpful or biblical response to the poverty of the people among whom it flourishes. And we observe that much of this teaching has come from North American sources where people are not materially poor in the same way.
  1. It vastly enriches those who preach it, but leaves multitudes no better off than before, with the added burden of disappointed hopes.
  2. While emphasizing various alleged spiritual or demonic causes of poverty, it gives little or no attention to those causes that are economic and political, including injustice, exploitation, unfair international trade practices, etc.
  3. It thus tends to victimize the poor by making them feel that their poverty is their own fault (which the Bible does not do), while failing to address and denounce those whose greed inflicts poverty on others (which the Bible does repeatedly).
  4. Some prosperity teaching is not really about helping the poor at all, and provides no sustainable answer to the real causes of poverty.
5. We accept that some prosperity teachers sincerely seek to use the Bible in explaining and promoting their teachings.

However, we are distressed that much use of the Bible is seriously distorted, selective, and manipulative. We call for a more careful exegesis of texts, and a more holistic biblical hermeneutic, and we denounce the way that many texts are twisted out of context and used in ways that contradict some very plain Bible teaching.

And especially, we deplore the fact that in many churches where Prosperity Teaching is dominant, the Bible is rarely preached in any careful or explanatory way, and the way of salvation, including repentance from sin and saving faith in Christ for forgiveness of sin, and the hope of eternal life, is misrepresented and substituted with material wellbeing.

6. We rejoice in the phenomenal growth of the numbers of professing Christians in many countries where churches that have adopted prosperity teachings and practice are very popular.

However, numerical growth or mega-statistics may not necessarily demonstrate the truth of the message that accompanies it, or the belief system behind it. Popularity is no proof of truth; and people can be deceived in great numbers.

7. We are pleased to observe that many churches and leaders are critical and in some cases overtly renounce and cut the links with specific aspects of African primal or traditional religion and its practices, where these can be seen to be in conflict with the biblical revelation and worldview.

Yet it seems clear that there are many aspects of Prosperity Teaching that have their roots in that soil. We therefore wonder if much popular Christianity is a syncretised super-structure on an underlying worldview that has not been radically transformed by the biblical gospel. We also wonder whether the popularity and attraction of Prosperity Teaching is an indication of the failure of contextualization of the Gospel in Africa.

8. We observe that many people testify to the way Prosperity Teaching has in fact impacted their lives for the better—encouraging them to have greater faith, to seek to improve their education, or working lives. We rejoice in this. There is great power in such testimony, and we thank God when any of his children enjoy his blessing.

However, we observe equally that many people have been duped by such teaching into false faith and false expectations, and when these are not satisfied, they 'give up on God', or lose their faith altogether and leave the church. This is tragic, and must be very grievous to God.
9. We accept that many prosperity teachers mostly have their roots in evangelical churches and traditions, or were brought up under the influence of evangelical parachurch ministries.

But we deplore the clear evidence that many of them have in practice moved away from key and fundamental tenets of evangelical faith, including the authority and priority of the Bible as the Word of God, and the centrality of the cross of Christ.

10. We know that God sometimes puts leaders in positions of significant public fame and influence.

However, there are aspects of the lifestyle and behaviour of many preachers of Prosperity Teaching that we find deplorable, unethical, and frankly idolatrous (to the god of Mammon), and in some of these respects we may be called upon to identify and reject such things as the marks of false prophets, according to the standards of the Bible. These include:
  1. Flamboyant and excessive wealth and extravagant lifestyles.
  2. Unethical and manipulative techniques.
  3. Constant emphasis on money, as if it were a supreme good—which is mammon.
  4. Replacing the traditional call to repentance and faith with a call to give money.
  5. Covetousness which is idolatry.
  6. Living and behaving in ways that are utterly inconsistent with either the example of Jesus or the pattern of discipleship that he taught.
  7. Ignoring or contradicting the strong New Testament teaching on the dangers of wealth and the idolatrous sin of greed.
  8. Failure to preach the word of God in a way that feeds the flock of Christ.
  9. Failure to preach the whole gospel message of sin, repentance, faith and eternal hope.
  10. Failure to preach the whole counsel of God, but replacing it with what people want to hear.
  11. Replacing time for evangelism with fund raising events and appeals.


Biblical teaching on Prosperity

What pity is it to see them so eager for prosperity, and so regardless of the proper use and benefit of it! O be not like the bee that is drowned in her own honey! And do not so greedily desire a greater burden than you can bear; and to have more to answer for, when you have been so unfaithful in a little. And if you believe Christ, who tells you how difficult it is for rich men to enter heaven, and how few of them are saved, don’t long for danger, and don’t complain if you don’t have these exceeding difficulties to overcome. You would be afraid to dwell in that air where few men escape infection; or to feed on that diet that most are killed by.
       -- Richard Baxter (1615-1691), The Fool’s Prosperity


US senator investigated finances of Prosperity Gospel preachers 


In 2007, US Senator Chuck Grassley (Iowa), ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee, opened a probe into the finances of six televangelists who preach a "prosperity gospel". The probe investigated reports of lavish lifestyles by televangelists, including fleets of Rolls Royces, palatial mansions, private jets and other expensive items purportedly paid for by television viewers who donated in response to the ministries' encouragement of offerings. The six that were investigated are:

Kenneth Copeland and Gloria Copeland of Kenneth Copeland Ministries of Newark, Texas, a $20 million organization and prosperity gospel pioneer. Questions were raised about the transfer of church assets to a for-profit company, Security Patrol Inc., a $1 million loan from Gloria Copeland to the group, and a "personal gift" of more than $2 million given to Kenneth Copeland to mark the ministry's 40th anniversary.

Creflo Dollar and Taffi Dollar of World Changers Church International and Creflo Dollar Ministries of College Park, Ga. Grassley's letter asked for records on private planes, board makeup, compensation and donations and "love offerings" to visiting ministers.

Benny Hinn of World Healing Center Church Inc. and Benny Hinn Ministries of Grapevine, Texas, was asked about use of a private jet, a home in Dana Point, Calif. and "layover trips" while traveling on ministry business. (Benny Hinn regularly held "healing miracle crusades" in Singapore at the invitation of Kong Hee: see here)

• Bishop Eddie L. Long of New Birth Missionary Baptist Church and Bishop Eddie Long Ministries of Lithonia, Ga., was questioned about his salary, a $1.4 million real estate transaction and whether he, and not the board, held sole authority over the organization.

Joyce Meyer and David Meyer of Joyce Meyer Ministries of Fenton, Mo. were asked about receiving donations of money and jewelry and the handling of cash from overseas crusades. They also were asked about expenditures at ministry headquarters, including a $30,000 conference table and a $23,000 "commode with marble top."

• Randy and Paula White of the multiracial Without Walls International Church and Paula White Ministries of Tampa were asked about home purchases in San Antonio, Texas, Malibu, Calif., and New York, credit card charges for clothing and cosmetic surgery and the reported purchase of a Bentley convertible as a gift for Bishop T.D. Jakes, a prominent Texas preacher and televangelist.

In letters to each ministry, Grassley asked for the ministries to divulge specific financial information to the Senate Finance Committee to determine whether or not funds collected by each organization were inappropriately utilized by ministry heads.

By the December 6, 2007 deadline, only three of the ministries had shown compliance with the Finance Committee's request. On March 11, 2008, Grassley and Finance Chairman Max Baucus sent follow-up letters to Kenneth Copeland, Creflo Dollar and Eddie Long, explaining that the Senate reserved the right to investigate the finances of their organizations under federal tax laws.

Responses from these Ministers included Constitutional arguments about Congressional power to oversee such matters. They claim that only the IRS (Inland Revenue Service) has the authority to request such information, and should the IRS request it or pursue an investigation, the ministries involved would gladly comply.

On 6 January 2011 Senator Grassley released his review of the six ministries' response to his inquiry. Joyce Meyer Ministries and  Benny Hinn of World Healing Center Church provided complete answers to all questions. The other four ministries either did not provide any information or provided incomplete information.

“The challenge is to encourage good governance and best practices and so preserve confidence in the tax-exempt sector without imposing regulations that inhibit religious freedom or are functionally ineffective,” Grassley said.


On prosperity gospel preachers and churches:

Believers Invest in the Gospel of Getting Rich, New York Times, Aug 15, 2009 (here)


The following is an in-depth look at the impact of prosperity gospel on American society and economy:

Did Christianity Cause the Crash?

America’s mainstream religious denominations used to teach the faithful that they would be rewarded in the afterlife. But over the past generation, a different strain of Christian faith has proliferated—one that promises to make believers rich in the here and now. Known as the prosperity gospel, and claiming tens of millions of adherents, it fosters risk-taking and intense material optimism. It pumped air into the housing bubble. And one year into the worst downturn since the Depression, it’s still going strong.

by Hanna Rosin

The Atlantic, Dec 2009 (source)

LIKE THE AMBITIONS of many immigrants who attend services there, Casa del Padre’s success can be measured by upgrades in real estate. The mostly Latino church, in Charlottesville, Virginia, has moved from the pastor’s basement, where it was founded in 2001, to a rented warehouse across the street from a small mercado (market) five years later, to a middle-class suburban street last year, where the pastor now rents space from a lovely old Baptist church that can’t otherwise fill its pews. Every Sunday, the parishioners drive slowly into the parking lot, never parking on the sidewalk or grass—“because Americanos don’t do that,” one told me—and file quietly into church. Some drive newly leased SUVs, others old work trucks with paint buckets still in the bed. The pastor, Fernando Garay, arrives last and parks in front, his dark-blue Mercedes Benz always freshly washed, the hubcaps polished enough to reflect his wingtips.

It can be hard to get used to how much Garay talks about money in church, one loyal parishioner, Billy Gonzales, told me one recent Sunday on the steps out front. Back in Mexico, Gonzales’s pastor talked only about “Jesus and heaven and being good.” But Garay talks about jobs and houses and making good money, which eventually came to make sense to Gonzales: money is “really important,” and besides, “we love the money in Jesus Christ’s name! Jesus loved money too!” That Sunday, Garay was preaching a variation on his usual theme, about how prosperity and abundance unerringly find true believers. “It doesn’t matter what country you’re from, what degree you have, or what money you have in the bank,” Garay said. “You don’t have to say, ‘God, bless my business. Bless my bank account.’ The blessings will come! The blessings are looking for you! God will take care of you. God will not let you be without a house!”

Pastor Garay, 48, is short and stocky, with thick black hair combed back. In his off hours, he looks like a contented tourist, in his printed Hawaiian shirts or bright guayaberas (shirts). But he preaches with a ferocity that taps into his youth as a cocaine dealer with a knife in his back pocket. “Fight the attack of the devil on my finances! Fight him! We declare financial blessings! Financial miracles this week, NOW NOW NOW!” he preached that Sunday. “More work! Better work! The best finances!” Gonzales shook and paced as the pastor spoke, eventually leaving his wife and three kids in the family section to join the single men toward the front, many of whom were jumping, raising their Bibles, and weeping. On the altar sat some anointing oils, alongside the keys to the Mercedes Benz.

Later, D’andry Then, a trim, pretty real-estate agent and one of the church founders, stood up to give her testimony. Business had not been good of late, and “you know, Monday I have to pay this, and Tuesday I have to pay that.” Then, just that morning, “Jesus gave me $1,000.” She didn’t explain whether the gift came in the form of a real-estate commission or a tax refund or a stuffed envelope left at her door. The story hung somewhere between metaphor and a literal image of barefoot Jesus handing her a pile of cash. No one in the church seemed the least bit surprised by the story, and certainly no one expressed doubt. “If you have financial pressure on you, and you don’t know where the next payment is coming from, don’t pay any attention to that!” she continued. “Don’t get discouraged! Jesus is the answer.”

America’s churches always reflect shifts in the broader culture, and Casa del Padre is no exception. The message that Jesus blesses believers with riches first showed up in the postwar years, at a time when Americans began to believe that greater comfort could be accessible to everyone, not just the landed class. But it really took off during the boom years of the 1990s, and has continued to spread ever since. This stitched-together, homegrown theology, known as the prosperity gospel, is not a clearly defined denomination, but a strain of belief that runs through the Pentecostal Church and a surprising number of mainstream evangelical churches, with varying degrees of intensity. In Garay’s church, God is the “Owner of All the Silver and Gold,” and with enough faith, any believer can access the inheritance. Money is not the dull stuff of hourly wages and bank-account statements, but a magical substance that comes as a gift from above. Even in these hard times, it is discouraged, in such churches, to fall into despair about the things you cannot afford. “Instead of saying ‘I’m poor,’ say ‘I’m rich,’” Garay’s wife, Hazael, told me one day. “The word of God will manifest itself in reality.”

Many explanations have been offered for the housing bubble and subsequent crash: interest rates were too low; regulation failed; rising real-estate prices induced a sort of temporary insanity in America’s middle class. But there is one explanation that speaks to a lasting and fundamental shift in American culture—a shift in the American conception of divine Providence and its relationship to wealth.

In his book Something for Nothing, Jackson Lears describes two starkly different manifestations of the American dream, each intertwined with religious faith. The traditional Protestant hero is a self-made man. He is disciplined and hardworking, and believes that his “success comes through careful cultivation of (implicitly Protestant) virtues in cooperation with a Providential plan.” The hero of the second American narrative is a kind of gambling man—a “speculative confidence man,” Lears calls him, who prefers “risky ventures in real estate,” and a more “fluid, mobile democracy.” The self-made man imagines a coherent universe where earthly rewards match merits. The confidence man lives in a culture of chance, with “grace as a kind of spiritual luck, a free gift from God.” The Gilded Age launched the myth of the self-made man, as the Rockefellers and other powerful men in the pews connected their wealth to their own virtue. In these boom-and-crash years, the more reckless alter ego dominates. In his book, Lears quotes a reverend named Jeffrey Black, who sounds remarkably like Garay: “The whole hope of a human being is that somehow, in spite of the things I’ve done wrong, there will be an episode when grace and fate shower down on me and an unearned blessing will come to me—that I’ll be the one.”

I had come to Charlottesville to learn more about this second strain of the American dream—one that’s been ascendant for a generation or more. I wanted to try to piece together the connection between the gospel and today’s economic reality, and to see whether “prosperity” could possibly still seem enticing, or even plausible, in this distinctly unprosperous moment. (Very much so, as it turns out.) Charlottesville may not be the heartland of the prosperity gospel, which is most prevalent in the Sun Belt—where many of the country’s foreclosure hot spots also lie. And Garay preaches an unusually pure version of the gospel. Still, the particulars of both Garay and his congregation are revealing.

Among Latinos the prosperity gospel has been spreading rapidly. In a recent Pew survey, 73 percent of all religious Latinos in the United States agreed with the statement: “God will grant financial success to all believers who have enough faith.” For a generation of poor and striving Latino immigrants, the gospel seems to offer a road map to affluence and modern living. Garay’s church is comprised mostly of first-generation immigrants. More than others I’ve visited, it echoes back a highly distilled, unself-conscious version of the current thinking on what it means to live the American dream.

One other thing makes Garay’s church a compelling case study. From 2001 to 2007, while he was building his church, Garay was also a loan officer at two different mortgage companies. He was hired explicitly to reach out to the city’s growing Latino community, and Latinos, as it happened, were disproportionately likely to take out the sort of risky loans that later led to so many foreclosures. To many of his parishioners, Garay was not just a spiritual adviser, but a financial one as well.

MANY OF THE TERMS and concepts used by prosperity preachers today date back to Oral Roberts, a poor farmer’s son turned Pentecostal preacher. Garay grew up watching Roberts on television and considers him a hero; he hopes to send all three of his children to Oral Roberts University, in Tulsa, Oklahoma. In the late 1940s, Roberts claimed his Bible flipped open to the Third Epistle of John, verse 2: “Beloved, I wish above all things that thou mayest prosper and be in health. Even as thy soul prospereth.” Soon Roberts developed his famous concept of seed faith, still popular today. If people would donate money to his ministry, a “seed” offered to God, he’d say, then God would multiply it a hundredfold. Eventually, Roberts retreated into a life that revolved around private jets and country clubs.

Roberts’s fame had faded by the late 1980s, and prosperity preaching briefly imploded soon after. We all remember Tammy Faye Bakker and her mascara tears, along with her husband, Jim, and his various scandals. They took their place in a procession of slick, showy faith healers on Christian television who ultimately succumbed to earthly temptation.

But since that time, the movement has made itself over, moving out of the fringe and into the upwardly mobile megachurch class. In the past decade, it has produced about a dozen celebrity pastors, who show up at White House events, on secular radio, and as guests on major TV talk shows. Kirbyjon Caldwell, a Methodist megapastor in Houston and a purveyor of the prosperity gospel, gave the benediction at both of George W. Bush’s inaugurals. Instead of shiny robes or gaudy jewelry, these preachers wear Italian suits and modest wedding bands. Instead of screaming and sweating, they smile broadly and speak in soothing, therapeutic terms. But their message is essentially the same. “Every day, you’re going to live that abundant life!” preaches Joel Osteen, a best-selling author, the nation’s most popular TV preacher, and the pastor of Lakewood Church, in Houston, the country’s largest church by far.

Among mainstream, nondenominational megachurches, where much of American religious life takes place, “prosperity is proliferating” rapidly, says Kate Bowler, a doctoral candidate at Duke University and an expert in the gospel. Few, if any, of these churches have prosperity in their title or mission statement, but Bowler has analyzed their sermons and teachings. Of the nation’s 12 largest churches, she says, three are prosperity—Osteen’s, which dwarfs all the other megachurches; Tommy Barnett’s, in Phoenix; and T. D. Jakes’s, in Dallas. In second-tier churches—those with about 5,000 members—the prosperity gospel dominates. Overall, Bowler classifies 50 of the largest 260 churches in the U.S. as prosperity. The doctrine has become popular with Americans of every background and ethnicity; overall, Pew found that 66 percent of all Pentecostals and 43 percent of “other Christians”—a category comprising roughly half of all respondents—believe that wealth will be granted to the faithful. It’s an upbeat theology, argues Barbara Ehrenreich in her new book, Bright-Sided, that has much in common with the kind of “positive thinking” that has come to dominate America’s boardrooms and, indeed, its entire culture.

On the cover of his 4 million-copy best seller from 2004, Your Best Life Now, Joel Osteen looks like a recent college grad who just got hired by Goldman Sachs and can’t believe his good luck. His hair is full, his teeth are bright, his suit is polished but not flashy; he looks like a guy who would more likely shake your hand than cast out your demons. Osteen took over his father’s church in 1999. He had little preaching experience, although he’d managed the television ministry for years. The church grew quickly, as Osteen packaged himself to appeal to the broadest audience possible. In his books and sermons, Osteen quotes very little scripture, opting instead to tell uplifting personal anecdotes. He avoids controversy, and rarely appears on Christian TV. In a popular YouTube clip, he declines to confirm Larry King’s suggestion that only those who believe in Jesus will go to heaven.

Osteen is often derided as Christianity Lite, but he is more like Positivity Extreme. “Cast down anything negative, any thought that brings fear, worry, doubt, or unbelief,” he urges. “Your attitude should be: ‘I refuse to go backward. I am going forward with God. I am going to be the person he wants me to be. I’m going to fulfill my destiny.’” Telling yourself you are poor, or broke, or stuck in a dead-end job is a form of sin and “invites more negativity into your life,” he writes. Instead, you have to “program your mind for success,” wake up every morning and tell yourself, “God is guiding and directing my steps.” The advice is exactly like the message of The Secret, or any number of American self-help blockbusters that edge toward magical thinking, except that the religious context adds another dimension.

Your Best, which has fueled a TV show that Osteen claims is now seen in 200 million homes worldwide, opens with a story of a man on vacation in Hawaii. He was “a good man who had achieved a modest measure of success, but he was coasting along, thinking that he’d already reached his limits.” While sightseeing, he and his wife admired a gorgeous house on a hill. “I can’t even imagine living in a place like that,” he said. For this bit of self-deprecation and modesty, Osteen pities the man: “His own thoughts and attitudes,” he writes, “were condemning him to mediocrity,” or what is known in the gospel as the “defeated life.”

A few pages later comes the corrective, the model of a “victor” and not a “victim.” Osteen and his wife, Victoria, are walking around their neighborhood in Houston when they pass a beautiful house being built. “Most of the other homes around us were one-story, ranch-style homes that were forty to fifty years old, but this house was a large two-story home, with high ceilings and oversized windows,” he writes. “It was a lovely, inspiring place.” Victoria desperately wanted a house “just like it,” but Joel was worried about how stretched they already were. “Thinking of our bank account and my income at the time, it seemed impossible to me,” he writes. But this, of course, is an example of ungodly, negative thinking. With her unwavering faith, Victoria wouldn’t let it drop. Soon she convinced Joel and then he, too, started to believe that “God could bring it to pass.” There is no explanation of how they came to own such a house—whether Osteen worked hard to grow his ministry or got rich from his TV show or received an inheritance from his father’s estate. In this story they are standing in for an average middle-class couple who set their sights on a bigger house and believed, despite all the financial evidence, that God would bestow it upon them, like a gift. And he did.

Theologically, the prosperity gospel has always infuriated many mainstream evangelical pastors. Rick Warren, whose book The Purpose Driven Life outsold Osteen’s, told Time, “This idea that God wants everybody to be wealthy? There is a word for that: baloney. It’s creating a false idol. You don’t measure your self-worth by your net worth. I can show you millions of faithful followers of Christ who live in poverty. Why isn’t everyone in the church a millionaire?” In 2005, a group of African American pastors met to denounce prosperity megapreachers for promoting a Jesus who is more like a “cosmic bellhop,” as one pastor put it, than the engaged Jesus of the civil-rights era who looked after the poor.

More recently, critics have begun to argue that the prosperity gospel, echoed in churches across the country, might have played a part in the economic collapse. In 2008, in the online magazine Religion Dispatches, Jonathan Walton, a professor of religious studies at the University of California at Riverside, warned:

Narratives of how “God blessed me with my first house despite my credit” were common … Sermons declaring “It’s your season of overflow” supplanted messages of economic sobriety and disinterested sacrifice. Yet as folks were testifying about “what God can do,” little attention was paid to a predatory subprime-mortgage industry, relaxed credit standards, or the dangers of using one’s home equity as an ATM.

In 2004, Walton was researching a book about black televangelists. “I would hear consistent testimonies about how ‘once I was renting and now God let me own my own home,’ or ‘I was afraid of the loan officer, but God directed him to ignore my bad credit and blessed me with my first home,’” he says. “This trope was so common in these churches that I just became immune to it. Only later did I connect it to this disaster.”

Demographically, the growth of the prosperity gospel tracks fairly closely to the pattern of foreclosure hot spots. Both spread in two particular kinds of communities—the exurban middle class and the urban poor. Many newer prosperity churches popped up around fringe suburban developments built in the 1990s and 2000s, says Walton. These are precisely the kinds of neighborhoods that have been decimated by foreclosures, according to Eric Halperin, of the Center for Responsible Lending.

Zooming out a bit, Kate Bowler found that most new prosperity-gospel churches were built along the Sun Belt, particularly in California, Florida, and Arizona—all areas that were hard-hit by the mortgage crisis. Bowler, who, like Walton, was researching a book, spent a lot of time attending the “financial empowerment” seminars that are common at prosperity churches. Advisers would pay lip service to “sound financial practices,” she recalls, but overall they would send the opposite message: posters advertising the seminars featured big houses in the background, and the parking spots closest to the church were reserved for luxury cars.

Nationally, the prosperity gospel has spread exponentially among African American and Latino congregations. This is also the other distinct pattern of foreclosures. “Hyper-segregated” urban communities were the worst off, says Halperin. Reliable data on foreclosures by race are not publicly available, but mortgages are tracked by both race and loan type, and subprime loans have tended to correspond to foreclosures. During the boom, roughly 40 percent of all loans going to Latinos nationwide were subprime loans; Latinos and African Americans were 28 percent and 37 percent more likely, respectively, to receive a higher-rate subprime loan than whites.

In June, the Supreme Court ruled that state attorneys general had the authority to sue national banks for predatory lending. Even before that ruling, at least 17 lawsuits accusing various banks of treating racial minorities unfairly were already under way. (Bank of America’s Countrywide division—one of the companies Garay worked for—had earlier agreed to pay $8.4 billion in a multistate settlement.) One theme emerging in these suits is how banks teamed up with pastors to win over new customers for subprime loans.

Beth Jacobson is a star witness for the City of Baltimore’s recent suit against Wells Fargo. Jacobson was a top loan officer in the bank’s subprime division for nine years, closing as much as $55 million worth of loans a year. Like many subprime-loan officers, Jacobson had no bank experience before working for Wells Fargo. The subprime officers were drawn from “an utterly different background” than the professional bankers, she told me. She had been running a small paralegal business; her co-workers had been car salespeople, or had worked in telemarketing. They were prized for their ability to hustle on the ground and “look you in the eye when they shook your hand,” she surmised. As a reward for good performance, the bank would sometimes send a Hummer limo to pick up Jacobson for a celebration, she said. She’d arrive at a bar and find all her co-workers drunk and her boss “doing body shots off a waitress.”

The idea of reaching out to churches took off quickly, Jacobson recalls. The branch managers figured pastors had a lot of influence with their parishioners and could give the loan officers credibility and new customers. Jacobson remembers a conference call where sales managers discussed the new strategy. The plan was to send officers to guest-speak at church-sponsored “wealth-building seminars” like the ones Bowler attended, and dazzle the participants with the possibility of a new house. They would tell pastors that for every person who took out a mortgage, $350 would be donated to the church, or to a charity of the parishioner’s choice. “They wouldn’t say, ‘Hey, Mr. Minister. We want to give your people a bunch of subprime loans,” Jacobson told me. “They would say, ‘Your congregants will be homeowners! They will be able to live the American dream!’”

GARAY OFTEN TELLS his life story from the pulpit, as an inspiration to the many immigrants in his church, some legal, some not. He grew up an outsider—a citizen by birth, but living a marginal existence in a diverse, working-class neighborhood in Flushing, Queens. His mother left when he was 8, and he was raised mostly by two older brothers; he spent most of his time on the street. “I ate jars of peanut butter for dinner,” he says. The story of how he became a Christian begins in 1989, when he was 28 years old, and involves a large sum of money. He’d been selling drugs in Miami, then started using, and owed some dealers $30,000 that he didn’t have, and they were going to kill him. He was on his mattress one night, in despair, when a picture of Jesus up on his wall “winked at me.” Soon after, he became a born-again Christian, and he told everyone about it. The dealers, he says, then went away. He doesn’t offer much explanation; he just says, “They were after me. They were going to kill me. And then they just backed off.” He credits Jesus.

Garay tried many churches, but they all felt alien and “dead” to him. “That’s not me, sitting quietly and saying ‘Thank you, God.’” Finally he came upon a Pentecostal prosperity church, much like the one he leads now. The church was full of miracles and real emotion, which drew him in, but it also offered practical benefits. The pastor pointed out Bible passages that referred to finances in specific terms, giving him images of wealth he could almost reach out and touch: “Give, and it shall be given to you; good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over”—a passage that’s now often read at Garay’s church during tithing time.

“Then it started happening. It started happening!” He enrolled in a community college and began selling roses from buckets in the backseat of his Honda (“no AC, no radio”). In no time, as he tells it, he had worked himself up to roses in plastic straws, laid neatly across the backseat of his Cadillac, with no water sloshing on the white leather. With this story, Garay hopes to convince his followers that God has a bounty for them, but that to get it they have to take the first step of faith. One analogy he likes to use is a box of gifts in heaven; if you never reach up to get it, then it won’t come down to you. It’s a curious mix of active (a step of faith) and passive (“It started happening!”).

In Garay’s testimony, his life proceeds that way: part hard work, part miracle. He applied himself, eventually got married, and had children. One day, for no reason, he quit his job as a social worker counseling addicted juvenile delinquents. “I almost hit him with a frying pan,” Hazael, his wife, jokes. But the very same day, his mother-in-law walked into the house and said the bank was looking for a bilingual loan officer. He had no experience and had never used a computer. Yet he got the job and within a year was earning six figures. How did that happen? How did it all come together so neatly, one door opening the moment another had closed? When I asked him that, he smiled and pointed up at the sky.

Garay is like a father figure to his parishioners; I met a few who had named their children after him or his wife. Parishioners told me stories about his coming with them to their court hearings, showing them how to buy a phone card or find a good school for their children or, for the more entrepreneurial, invest in a small business. Oral Roberts’s seed-faith concept is the source of much suspicion about prosperity churches; pastors, including Garay, ask their parishioners to give 10 percent of their income to the church. But to Garay, seed faith is the church’s central tenet. The tithe, he says, is tangible proof that a believer has taken the first step toward God. It is the spiritual equivalent of spending three years selling flowers door-to-door. He often tells what’s known as Jesus’ parable of the three servants, from Matthew. A lord gives three of his servants money. Two invest the money and double their profit, and a third hides his in the ground. When the master returns, he declares the third “wicked and lazy” and a “worthless slave,” and casts him into the “outer darkness.” “To receive God’s bounty, you cannot hide your head in the sand,” Garay preaches. “You have to take a leap of faith.”

I asked Garay why his parishioner Billy Gonzales, who earns barely $25,000 and has no money to fix his car, should donate 10 percent of his income. “Because it gives him a new mentality. It teaches him that money can breed more money, that you can have money in your pocket on Saturday morning even though you got paid Friday night. People who support the church week after week have a dedication. Those who just give $5 or $10 here and there, you’ll hear them have the same problems week after week.” Jackson Lears would add another explanation: tithing is like the moment the gambler lays his money down on the table—it “promises at least a fleeting opportunity to contact a realm where hope is alive,” he writes. Without it, there’s only the dull regularity of $2,000 a month and a dead car.

During the boom years, Apostle Garay, as he is known in church, was brasher than he is now. He spoke in very specific terms during church services, promising that a $100 offering would yield a $10,000 return: “This is not my promise. It is God’s promise, and he will make it happen!” he would say.

While it sounds absurd, this kind of message can have a positive influence, according to Tony Tian-Ren Lin, a researcher at the University of Virginia who has made a close study of Latino prosperity gospel congregations over the years. These churches typically take in people who had “been basically dropped into the world from pretty primitive settings”—small towns in Latin America with no electricity or running water and very little educational opportunity. In their new congregation, their pastor slowly walks them through life in the U.S., both inside and outside of church, until they become more confident. “In Mexico, nobody ever told them they could do anything,” says Lin, who was himself raised in Argentina. He finds the message at prosperity churches to be quintessentially American. “They are taught they can do absolutely anything, and it’s God’s will. They become part of the elect, the chosen. They get swept up in the manifest destiny, this idea that God has lifted Americans above everyone else.”

At Casa del Padre, the celebration of consumer culture is quite visible, along with a sense of boundless opportunity. The people in the church, for instance, tend to have very expensive cell phones—never the free ones that come with a calling plan, nor the sort that can be bought cheaply at a convenience store. “They start wanting what’s considered the best and the most technologically advanced in this country,” Lin says. Garay’s church, it seems to me, teaches them that they deserve these things, so they go about getting them, with few resources and infinite adaptability. Before the crash, one group of young men got a $12,000 loan to start a landscaping company; another man bought a $270,000 house. One of the church’s Bible-study leaders, who’d grown up in a remote village in Mexico with an abusive, alcoholic father, had become a very successful contractor by the height of the boom, managing 30 men on multiple jobs and winning contracts to paint luxury subdivisions in the exurbs.

The tenets of the prosperity gospel, and the practical advice that pastors often give their parishioners, help immigrants learn “not just how to survive but how to thrive; not just live paycheck to paycheck but handle money—manage complicated payrolls, invest in equipment,” Lin told me. Along the way, they become assimilated. “While they’re trying to be closer to God, instead they become American,” he says, from their optimism and entrepreneurialism to the very nature of their dreams.

THESE DAYS, GARAY’S MESSAGE is more subdued than it was at the height of the boom, but not substantially different. In a sermon on Father’s Day, he did not make specific claims of financial returns on investments but instead spoke vaguely about how his congregation’s prospects were “good and going to get better.” After church, I asked Garay about how the gospel was holding up in the recession. It was a hot summer day, and although he had just finished one of his feverish two-hour sermons, he seemed energized rather than drained. “Look,” he said, and rounded his hands as if to indicate a protective shield. “The recession has not hit my church.” He reminded me that when he had asked how many people were out of work, only four people out of about 100 there had raised their hands. But in a church where failure is seen as a kind of sin, it seems credulous at best to expect an honest response to that question. I later met at least one person—Billy Gonzales’s younger brother—who didn’t have a job but hadn’t raised his hand, because he thought he’d “have one lined up soon.”

Garay describes the recession as God’s judgment—for abortion, taking prayer out of school, bikinis on television, “Desperate Housewives, whatever.” But God is also giving us a two-year window to repent, he says. He calculates that we’ve had five years of extreme plenty and now the clock is running out, based on the biblical story of Joseph and the great famine—seven years of plenty followed by seven years of a failed harvest. If we don’t repent, we will experience “misery like we have never known it.” These days, if any parishioners or fellow pastors ask Garay for investment advice, he tells them to wait two years before making a move.

Like much of Garay’s advice, this recommendation is partly grounded in economic reality, and partly drawn from mystical notions about a biblical calendar. “I’m very real,” he once told me. “If you want to eat at Red Lobster, you better have a Red Lobster paycheck, and enough left over to pay your electric bill. But I’ve also seen miracles of God.” Later, during one of our talks over coffee, his wife echoed the sentiment. “If you can’t afford a house, you shouldn’t buy it,” Hazael said, when I asked whether the prosperity gospel might push people to take irresponsible risks. “But if the Lord is telling you to ‘take that first step and I will provide,’ then you have to believe.”

I asked Garay many times about a connection between the mortgage crisis and the gospel, but he does not really see one. From everything he says about his time as a loan officer, it seems he was involved in the kinds of subprime loans that led to so many foreclosures. He was hired in Countrywide’s emerging-markets division, which meant he was expected to target the growing Latino community in the area. Like Beth Jacobson, he had no previous experience, but was valued for his connections and hustle. He makes astute criticisms of the risky loans but, like many former loan officers, he does so with a curious sense of distance, as if he had been just a cog in the machine. Loans got “too easy,” he says. “Mortgages would be $1,500 a month, and that was all [the loan applicants] made in a month,” he recalls, “but they figured they would rent the basement.” He says sometimes he told people the loans were going to kill them, but they would plead, “Please help me,please. I want a house.” Because he was becoming an increasingly prominent pastor at the time, many people who came to see him assumed he was the president of the bank and could protect them, he recalls.

Garay says as far as he knows no one in his church defaulted. But at a bare minimum, some of his parishioners have run into intense financial difficulties, sometimes defaulting soon after leaving the congregation. The man who’d bought the $270,000 house threw a huge housewarming party and invited everyone from church. He gave a weepy testimony about the house God had given him, passing around the title for all to see. At the time, he was working as a handyman, putting up drywall, painting, roofing, and doing other odd jobs. Within three months he had three families living in the three-bedroom house, and he still could not keep up with the payments. After five months, he went into foreclosure and ducked out of the country. Tony Lin is careful—and of course correct—to say that neither immigrants nor Latinos caused the crash; adherents of every stripe exhibited the same sort of magical thinking about finances, as did millions of nonbelievers. Still, he recalls, “I wasn’t very surprised when the whole subprime-mortgage thing blew up. I’m sure a loan officer never said, ‘God wants you to have a house.’ But you’ve already been taught that. Now here comes the loan officer saying, ‘Sign here, and this house will be yours.’ It feels like a gift from God. It’s the perfect fuel for the crisis.”

The guys who’d started the landscaping company also fared badly. They had a pretty good spring and summer in 2007, their first year of operation, and then business started to fall off. In church they kept giving positive testimonies, bragging about their success. But by October, they’d begun selling off their equipment; eventually they lost the business and had to go into hiding. The most interesting part of the story is the epilogue. One of the partners in the group, whom I’ll call Luis, eventually moved to Richmond, and an acquaintance from Casa del Padre told me that he’d recently run into him there. Luis hadn’t been embittered by the experience; he blamed the disaster on the fact that he’d started working on Sundays instead of going to church. Luis asked the man to come visit with some of the parishioners of his new church, to confirm that he had once been a great success. As they talked, he seemed happy and positive. “He wasn’t angry that things didn’t work out. He wasn’t angry at God. He looked back at those days and thought, ‘I can still have everything. Look what God gave me. That was a time when I had it all.’”

BY MANY MEASURES, Billy Gonzales does not have it all. He lives with his wife and three children in a tiny apartment on the back side of a development at the edge of town, where people hang out on the stoop until all hours. He works 45 minutes away and his car has been broken down for three months, and he does not have any money to fix it. Every day at work he is faced with a vision of what he does not have. He works for a man who just built a $4 million house—one of four the man owns. Gonzales’s job is to make sure every wine glass, garden statue, and book is dusted and in its proper place. Yet when I talked to Gonzales he was like a child hearing the ice-cream truck, or a man newly in love. “I’m crazy! Just crazy,” he said, meaning crazy for the Lord, and giving little jumps out of his chair.

I visited Gonzales one evening after he’d had a long day at work; his brother had given him a ride home. Gonzales has a wide, earnest face that can look like a child’s or, if he is tired, like an old man’s. He sat in his favorite squeaky leather chair with his Bible in one hand and a soccer ball at his feet. The sofas in the tiny living room are actually backseats ripped out of cars, with cushions thrown on them. He got the cushions from a man he once shared a trailer with, and they turned out to be infested with cockroaches. As we talked, the roaches crawled across the floor or on the sofas. Gonzales apologized but did not pay them much attention.

He told me he feels pity for his employer. He assumes the man must have been close to God at one point, or at least his family must have been, “because the rich are closer to God.” But now the man has lost his way. He laughs when Gonzales talks to him about Jesus, and he wastes his money, buying $500 birdhouses and hiring Gonzales to clean them.

Gonzales was once lost too. He came from a big family in Guatemala so poor “that the poor people would call us poor.” For a while after he came to the U.S., he sent money home, but then like many of his friends he lost the rhythm of work. Instead, he was snorting cocaine and getting drunk four nights a week. “I hated Americans. I hated them,” he said, and I had trouble believing him, given his now-innocent, open demeanor. He says that back then, he spent most of his days fantasizing about killing his brother-in-law, whom he hated for no reason he can remember. His conversion came two years ago, in the form of a sudden vision like Garay’s. One night, in a drugged-out haze, he saw a polished, shimmery stone. He later realized it was a jewel, one of the many treasures in God’s vast storehouse, destined for him. Eventually he made his way to Garay, whom he now calls his father.

When I mentioned Gonzales to Garay, the pastor praised him as a model congregant. Indeed, by any standard Gonzales is an admirable man. He is 24, married, works hard, and limits his extracurricular activities to Bible study and soccer. It took me a few visits to realize that two of the three small children in the house are not his. He married a woman with two sons and takes care of them. They call him Papa and he reads to them at night and speaks to them gently, exactly the way he speaks to his own baby son. He has every reason to be frustrated with his circumstances, but I never once saw him express anything but delight. The gospel obviously grounds Gonzales in a very concrete way. But I can also see how, one day, it might send him floating into the air.

“I want to buy a house,” he confessed to me one evening this summer. It turned out his lease was almost up, and he needed to move in the fall. “Not a small one but a really huge one, a nice one. With six bedrooms and a kitchen and living room. I know, it’s crazy! But nothing is impossible! God, you saved my life,” he said, no longer speaking to me. “You saved my life, and now you will give me a gift. Now I’m crazy!” Last I heard, he and Garay were house-hunting together.

A year or so after the crash, there are signs of a new sobriety—higher savings rates, for example, and a reduction in conspicuous spending. But it’s hard to imagine Americans reverting to frugality the way, say, the Japanese did during the “lost decade” after their economy crashed. If by stereotype the Japanese are savers, then Americans are consumers, and ever hopeful. Already, countless “entrepreneurs” are finding a silver lining in the mortgage crisis, buying up foreclosed lots—often sight unseen, based on Web listings alone—in desolate parts of Cleveland and Phoenix and other places where abandoned houses can sometimes be had for a few thousand dollars or less. The buyers pay these bargain-basement prices eagerly, in the belief that the houses must be great deals, when they are just as likely to be overtaken by mold, or have every one of their doors and windows missing and the roof caving in. In America there is always a next play, another opportunity, an “unearned blessing” that can make up for a lifetime of disappointment.

It is not all that surprising that the prosperity gospel persists despite its obvious failure to pay off. Much of popular religion these days is characterized by a vast gap between aspirations and reality. Few of Sarah Palin’s religious compatriots were shocked by her messy family life, because they’ve grown used to the paradoxes; some of the most socially conservative evangelical churches also have extremely high rates of teenage pregnancies, out-of-wedlock births, and divorce. As Garay likes to say, “What you have is nothing compared to what you will have.” The unpleasant reality—an inadequate paycheck, a pregnant daughter, a recession—is invisible. It’s your ability to see beyond such things, your willing blindness to even the most hopeless-seeming circumstances, that makes you a certain kind of modern Christian, and a 21st-century American.

There is the kind of hope that President Obama talks about, and that Clinton did before him—steady, uplifting, assured. And there is Garay’s kind of hope, which perhaps for many people better reflects the reality of their lives. Garay’s is a faith that, for all its seeming confidence, hints at desperation, at circumstances gone so far wrong that they can only be made right by a sudden, unexpected jackpot.
Once, I asked Garay how you would know for certain if God had told you to buy a house, and he answered like a roulette dealer. “Ten Christians will say that God told them to buy a house. In nine of the cases, it will go bad. The 10th one is the real Christian.” And the other nine? “For them, there’s always another house.”

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

How Singapore Policed the Foreign Press

Written by Todd Crowell

Asia Sentinel, 26 June 2012 (source)

A few years ago the word “gazetted” was possibly the most feared word for any publication operating in Asia, especially Southeast Asia. The term described the way the Singaporean government policed the foreign press by selectively curtailing or expanding a publication’s circulation within the island republic.

The term “gazette” merely referred to the fact that the circulation curtailment order from the Information Ministry was published in the National Gazette. But as a verb it had a sinister connotation, sort of like being “garroted” or maybe “guillotined.” It was appropriate since a gazetted newspaper or magazine had its circulation cut by more than half.

I was reminded of those days with the marking recently of the 25th anniversary of “Operation Spectrum”, a severe crackdown that the Singaporean government launched against about two dozen of its citizens it said were part of a “Marxist Conspiracy” to turn the island republic into a communist state.

Between 16 and 22 people were jailed under Singapore’s Internal Security Act (ISA), which provides for unlimited detention without trial. Several of the defendants were jailed for a few months, others for a few years, where they claim to have been tortured. The government considered them dangerous agitators intent on overthrowing the government.

Much of the foreign press that was then covering Singapore, including my own magazine, the now-defunct Asiaweek, took the view that the operation was a gross overreaction. The defendants were largely charity or religious workers, and most of the Western press considered them harmless naïfs. That in effect turned Operation Spectrum into an epic freedom-of-the-press struggle.

I arrived in Hong Kong to work for Asiaweek in June, 1987, the same month as the struggle began, and I confess I found the whole thing bewildering at first. I recall being editorial meetings where the name “Harry this” or “Harry that” was bandied about. Who was this Harry? Later I understood Harry was Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew. He dropped his English name as a legacy of colonialism. He doesn’t like being called Harry.

The nub of the issue seemed quite arcane. It was whether the Singapore government had the right to publish unedited any official reply to our story in our magazine. Lee put it directly at a memorable appearance before the Hong Kong Foreign Correspondent’s Club, when he said: “When you play on my turf, you play by my rules, and my rules say that we have a right to reply to any attack.”

That would seem reasonable enough, except that any reply had to be run exactly as it was written, regardless of whether we thought the words disingenuous or not. We considered it tantamount to turning our editorial pages over to a foreign government. Following an acrimonious exchange of letters, Singapore lost patience and gazetted us. Our circulation was cut to a few hundred subscribers - selected by the government.

The Far Eastern Economic Review, faced with a similar order, decided to pull out of the market entirely. The government responded to this by simply printing its own pirated edition. Did it censor the political stories? No way . . . nothing so crude as that. It simply blanked out the advertisements. It seemed to say “Report what you want, but you won’t make a profit in our market doing it.”

Once I contributed to a wrist-slapping curtailment in an innocuous column of book briefs. The reviewer of a new dictionary of Southeast Asia remarked that the book included the “colorless” foreign minister of Singapore at the time, one S Jayakumar, but not some other personages he felt more important. Singapore authorities took exception to our use of the word “colorless”, which they said was “gratuitous disparagement.” They cut our circulation for another six months.

To my recollection our magazine stayed gazetted for the rest of the time it published. The government would raise or lower the circulation as it saw fit to reward good behavior or punish bad. One of the editors tried to convince me that he actually welcomed the gazetting, as it created an artificial shortage of the magazine and presumably made it easier and cheaper to gain new subscribers, assuming that we were permitted to do so.

Why did we put up with these indignities? Why didn’t we treat Singapore like Myanmar or North Korea or even China, where one expects to get in trouble with the authorities, even expelled from the county? The answer is that unlike Myanmar, North Korea or even China, Singapore is an important market as well as a subject of news for foreign publications Before we were gazetted, Asiaweek had some 10,000 subscribers in the Lion City, making it our second or third largest market in Asia, a significant share of our total circulation. Other Western publications such as the Review, Asian Wall Street Journal and the Economist, had similar circulations. Singaporeans overwhelmingly read English and have the money to pay for newsmagazines.

Not much has changed in the 25 years since Operation Spectrum. Asiaweek and FEER have ceased publication, but many others, such as Time, Newsweek the Wall Street Journal and others still circulate in the republic, doing their best in a difficult environment. Officially, the government continues to maintain that it is a “privilege and not a right” for foreign publications to circulate in Singapore.

Since 2006 foreign publications have been required to post a large deposit and appoint somebody to represent the publication in Singapore - in other words somebody the government can sue. Just last year a British writer named Alan Shadrake was jailed for six weeks concerning his book, Once a Jolly Hangman, critical of the way Singapore enforces the death penalty, especially in cases of trafficking in drugs. The court ruled that the book impugned the integrity of the judiciary.

Meanwhile the government remains unrepentant about Operation Spectrum, releasing a statement to coincide with the 25th anniversary: The purported conspiracy was an attempt “to subvert Singapore’s political and social order using communist united front tactics”, the Home Ministry stated.


  (Todd Crowell worked as a Senior Writer for Asiaweek from 1987 to 2001. He has finished a new book, “Who’s Afraid of Asian Values?”.)

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Corruption in a Singapore megachurch: $23 million for founding pastor's wife, $50 million siphoned off

Summary of Events leading to Kong Hee's arrest

Kong Hee (康希)

Ambition! Ho Yeow Sun (Sun Ho) (何耀珊)

Kong Hee and Ho Yeow Sun (27 June 2012) (source)


1. Rumours of financial impropriety concerning City Harvest Church (CHC) and its pastor(s) have been around for years. Some say as far back as 10 years ago.

1a. In 2003, businessman and church member, Roland Poon Swee Kay, wrote to the media claiming that City Harvest Church funds were used for Ho Yeow Sun’s publicity and promotional campaign. Poon later apologized i
n all major newspapers and retracted his allegation. Kong Hee said that not a single cent of the church funds was used to buy or promote Sun’s albums. (See "Roland Poon's allegation in 2003" below)

2. The first public uproar about the church arose in March 2010, when the church tried to buy a $310 million stake in a commercial entity known as Suntec Convention Centre for its new church. Worse, it had to hide the details in a non-disclosure agreement, when as a public charity and society, it has a duty of openness and accountability to its members.

3. This series of actions, sparked a complaint by a member of the church to the Commissioner of Charities, asking why the church had submitted its members to future liabilities, without the members’ permission. This was because the church had not raised the full sum of $310 million at that point in time (only $65 million was raised).

4. The Senior Pastor and the church was questioned about this by the Commissioner of Charities, but the public were not informed of the details.

5. Shortly after, on 31st May 2010, the Senior Pastor’s home and office, together with 16 other associates of the church, were raided by the Singapore Commercial Affairs Department (CAD) upon the request of the Commissioner of Charities (COC). They were all hauled in for questioning.

6. The COC and CAD issued a joint statement that the Senior Pastor and his associates were being investigated for:

6.1 Misuse of church funds
6.2 Falsification of documents
6.3 Criminal breach of trust

7. The pastor’s wife was then asked to return from LA for questioning by the CAD. At this time, the financial probe had increased to 20 or more people including the Pastor’s wife, as well as the deputy senior pastor of the church.

8. The church itself and the Senior Pastor and his wife, then sought legal representation from senior counsels in Singapore.

9. Shortly after this, the Senior Pastor was accused of plagiarising the works of American authors and this was featured in the local newspapers. Plagiarism is a crime in Singapore. But the authors decided not to press charges on the pastor, as long as he did not continue to use their works.

10. News of the Senior Pastor’s wife's extravagant lifestyle in LA hit Singapore. Her luxuries included an approximately USD20,000 a month rental in the posh Hollywood Hills mansion, 2 cars, maids/butler, personal entourage of dancers and choreographers, frequent travel, expensive clothes and makeovers, jewelleries, etc.

11. The Senior Pastor and his deputy were asked to step down as heads of the church and replaced by 2 executive pastors.

12. An independent auditing team was appointed to review the governance of the church as well as its internal controls.

Pastor Kong Hee was finally arrested on 26th June 2012 and charged in court with 4 of his cohorts for various offences.



How much did Kong Hee and Ho Yeow Sun take from an average church member, who Kong Hee urged to give until his/her heart breaks, according to God's commandment? They siphoned off at least S$23 million in 3 years ($7.7 million a year).

Taking the figure of 33,000 church members, each church member would have contributed $700 towards the couple (33,000 x 700 = 23.1 million). Taking the figure of 23,000 attendees, each attendee would have contributed $1000.

A fraction of this money went towards the glory of the couple's $9.3 million Sentosa Cove penthouse and a Hollywood Hills luxury home (in May 2010) for Ho costing S$28,000 a month in rent, and a commensurate lifestyle (see "From $127k HDB flat to $9.3m Sentosa Cove penthouse" at the end of this post).

Tan Ye Peng, Chew Eng Han and Tan Shao Yuen Sharon appear to have stolen another S$26.6 million. A total of S$50 million has therefore been stolen.

The sum of $50 million means $1500 from each of the 33,000 church members, or $2200 from each of the 23,000 attendees.

The City Harvest Church quintet's greed and audacity (or faith in divine protection in their criminal activities) are astounding, especially so considering that the
NKF (National Kidney Foundation) Singapore scandal
(July 2005) and the trial and conviction (June 2007) of its former CEO T.T. Durai were still a vivid and potent warning to all Singapore charities in Dec 2007 when the theft of $23 million began.

For comparison, NKF's civil lawsuit against T.T. Durai and four others seeks to recover $12 million which includes  amounts misappropriated through excessive salaries, benefits, failed or fake contracts, and legal costs. Therefore T.T. Durai is known to have stolen from, or unnecessarily cost, NKF $12 million (source).  This is 24% of the $50 million stolen from City Harvest Church.

Mr Aries Zulkarnain, the executive pastor and a founding member of the church since its start 23 years ago, says that the church stands with the members involved.
"The people currently in the news are our pastors and trusted staff and leaders who have always put God and CHC first. As a church we stand with them and I believe fully in their integrity. Pastor Kong is still our Senior Pastor"
Mr Zulkarnain says that COC has confirmed that Mr Kong Hee, the senior pastor, and Mr Tan Ye Peng, the deputy senior pastor will continue to preach at the church. (source)

So, the current CHC leadership is vesting its financial and spiritual credibility fully in Kong Hee and his gang of five. If the court of justice and the court of public opinion eventually convict the gang of five, the hitherto untainted  reputation of the current CHC leadership, and the church that Zulkarnain officially speaks for, will go down the drain. (If Zulkarnian endorses unreservedly financial shenanigans and criminal breach of trust in the name of God, then should we not conclude that he will perpetrate the same himself?) I seriously doubt the wisdom of his move. 

Has Kong Hee become an infallible prophet of God (the first such, for all previous prophets were human and fallible) in the eyes of his flock?

So far, CHC has failed to echo the National Council of Churches Singapore (NCCS)'s stand that the Christian community is united in disapproving any misuse of public institutional funds, including money raised by or given to churches (source). 

In the merciless glare of the limelight, and under a gathering cloud of suspicion, CHC needs to take such a  principled stand, regardless of Kong Hee's guilt or innocence.

In addition, Zulkarnain's following statement: "It has been suggested that the church has been cheated of $50 million. This is not accurate. The $24 million, which went to investment bonds, was returned to the church in full, with interest. We didn't lose the $24 million, nor did we lose another $26.6m as alleged. The church did not lose any funds in the relevant transactions, and no personal profit was gained by the individuals concerned" may have interfered with the judicial process, infringed the sub judice (under judgment) rule and be in contempt of court, according to some lawyers.

Any of the following activities could be considered contempt of court in the UK:
    * mounting an organized campaign to influence proceedings
    * anticipating the course of a trial or predicting the outcome

    * publishing information obtained from confidential court documents

    * making payments to witnesses

    * filming or recording within court buildings

    * reporting on the defendant's previous convictions (source)
    (However, the UK has trial by jury, whereas Singapore does not. What might unduly influence a potential or actual juror, hence interfering with the judicial process, should presumably not unduly influence a judge.)

The Attorney-General's Chambers said that criminal charges were before the court and that neither the prosecution nor any other party should comment on issues which will be subject to adjudication.

"Generally, in law, the offence of criminal breach of trust of monies is established once there is misappropriation of the monies with the requisite intent, regardless of whether there have or have not been subsequent attempts at restitution by the accused," said the police.



Death of a Halo: a former CHC member speaks (here)

The last 16 months of my life, by Roland Wong, who left CHC in March 2011, after 16 years in the church, over CHC's financial opacity (source1source2)


Questions questions! (source)

The following are questions raised by a CHC member(s) related to CHC finances, management, etc, with humorous answers (given by another). A few are now satisfactorily answered, while others remain open.

These questions might contain factual errors. Nevertheless they reveal the mind of an intelligent CHC member, defying the church injunction to exercise blind faith in Kong Hee and the CHC leadership.

CHC Finance 

(sub judice:  matters before the judiciary)

*Why did the CHC buy million of $ of unquoted bonds from Xtron, a company that has been losing money since it was formed? 
  • 1.    Because Kong Hee and Sun are the owners of Xtron
  • 2.    Because KH likes to help the poor
  • 3.    Because Kong Hee has strong faith that Xtron one day will flourish

*Is it true that the Management Committee passed Resolutions to approve the Cultural Mandate and the acceptance of companies linked to CHC (e.g. Xtron and AMAC) as legal and valid? What is the meaning of all this? Does this mean that monies has passed through these companies and involved in matters not in the Building of God’s church?
  • 1.       Yes
  • 2.       No
  • 3.       Probably – definitely true for Xtron. Xtron accompanies Kong Hee and Sun on all their trips, funded by CHC.

Building Fund

*It has been confirmed by newspaper reports and CHC website, that CHC raised $114+ million from 2005-2009. Why is then that there was only $64+ million in the Arise and Build fund in 2009? What happened to the $50 million unaccounted for? 
  • 1.    It went to the licensor
  • 2.    It went to Sun Ho and Xtron
  • 3.    It went to charity

*With the URA restrictions (no tenancy agreement), little or no possibility of further shares purchase# and also not requiring major renovations (non-exclusive use) are we still talking about a $310 million Suntec deal or a sum which is much less? Shouldn’t this information be disseminated to the church if there are any updates? Is there anymore necessity to raise the further $245 million through A & B Fund raising for the next 8 years at an average of $31 million per fund-raising year?

# Not true. CHC increased its share in Suntec in July 2012.
  • 1.       Yes
  • 2.       No – CHC’ers have unconditional trust in their leader.
  • 3.       Worst case – CHC goes broke – so better keep on giving.

Suntec Convention Centre, SCC 
(use of Building Fund)

*Why did my Snr Pastor pay $46.3 million to the Licensor for simply finding a new place of worship for CHC? Why was the Snr Pastor so generous to give Licensor such a big amount when the Suntec church will not be ready by March 2011 and the usage is non-exclusive and without a tenancy agreement? 
  • 1.    Because he is co-owner of the licensor
  • 2.    Because he likes to give freely
  • 3.    Because it is just petty cash

*Why did my Snr Pastor announce that CHC was “co-owner” and later clarified that the Church only is a minority shareholder of SCC? This was further clarified by ARA Group in the Chinese newspaper. 
  • 1.    Because, with the giving and all. he did not expect any financially savvy people amongst his flock
  • 2.    “Co-owner” – “minority shareholder”: it’s all the same isn’t it?
  • 3.    Because Kong Hee has the right to change his mind

*Why did my Snr Pastor pledge the Jurong Church in “the event of non-payment of rent, the creditors have a cause of action against the assets of CHC (i.e. our Jurong West St 91 Church Building)”? Isn’t this a violation of the Societies Act which does not permit society members to subject it’s members to adverse risk? 
  • 1.    Because he did not know
  • 2.    Because he does not care
  • 3.    All of the above

*What is impact of URA restrictions on the church usage of Suntec? Would the space be enough? If space is not enough, what sense is there to move at all? Also, if non-exclusive does it mean have to move out all equipment every Sunday? Where would we go for our Bible classes, morning/evening prayer sessions etc etc as earlier planned for Suntec?
  • 1.    URA restrictions can be bypassed
  • 2.   There is enough money to move in-and out every Sunday
  • 3.    CHC presence will de-motivate and scare off exhibitioners

*It has been clarified that Suntec Reit will eventually buy over Suntec Convention Centre in 2-3 years time. Why then did the Senior Pastor announced that the deal was self-sustaining, when it’s unlikely that future shares can be bought in Suntec Convention Centre?
  • 1.    Because Kong Hee is indirectly involved in Suntec Reit
  • 2.    Because Kong Hee does not care
  • 3.    Because Kong Hee believes God will support

Kong Hee and Kevin Dyson's credentials

*Is it true that the Senior Pastor Kong Hee and his mentor, Dr Kevin Dyson got their education and qualifications through degree mills i.e. unaccredited institutes of higher education as defined by the US Department of Education?
  • 1.       Yes
  • 2.       Yes
  • 3.       Yes

# ed. My answer is Yes. Kong Hee, Kevin Dyson and Phil Pringle (Dyson and Pringle are on the CHC Advisory Committee set up in Sep 2010 to improve CHC's  structure, governance and accountability) all have bogus theological doctorates from diploma mills. See here and here.

Kong Hee
*Is it true that the Senior Pastor is paid director fees as the President/Chairman of the Management Board of CHC, when he specifically said that he does not collect any pay from the Church? 
  • 1.    Yes
  • 2.    No
  • 3.    Does it matter how the money eventually lands in Kong Hee’s pockets?

Sun Ho

*Is it true that when Sun Ho was offered the contract of USD5 million by Tonos Entertainment in 2005, Tonos Entertainment had already closed down in 1st Sep 2003? So what contract was Sun Ho on, when she went to America? 
  • 1.    It was all funded by Ed Hardy clothes
  • 2.    It was all funded by Sun herself
  • 3.    It was all funded by the Lord

CHC Size
*Is true that CHC has just 14,000+ members rather than 33,000 members as earlier declared by the church. 
  • 1.    Yes
  • 2.    No
  • 3.    What’s the difference between 0,3% and 0.6% of total S'porean population? or 0.001% of all Christians? Still very very small

ed. According to CHC (here), its congregation size in 2010 is 22,049.
Average December CHC service attendance 1989-2010 (source)

Average Nov/Dec overall CHC Movement
service attendance 1989-2010 (source)

CAD Investigation 
(answers are now clear)

*Why did the CAD raid my Snr Pastor’s home, CHC Office and offices of associates of CHC on 31 May 10?
  • 1.     Because they suspected abuse of funds
  • 2.     Because PAP does not like CHC
  • 3.     It was the Devil’s doing

*Why did the CAD interrogate my Snr Pastor and his wife on multiple occasions?
  • 1.       Because they enjoy talking to Sun
  • 2.       Because they have nothing better to do
  • 3.       Because they suspect foul play

*Why did my Snr Pastor and his Dy Snr Pastor have to step down?
  • 1.     Because of conflict of interest
  • 2.     He did not have to – It was his choice
  • 3.    Because God told him to take a back-seat


Kong Hee 

Kong Hee (c. 1988)
Kong Hee (1991)

Kong Hee (c. 1989)
Born : 23 August 1964
Accepted Christ : 1975

  • Raffles Institution: 1977-1980
  • Raffles Junior College: 1981-1982
  • Graduated from National University of Singapore,
    Bachelor of Science (Computer & Information Sciences):

Theological Qualifications:
  • Raffles Institution
  • Raffles Junior College
  • Graduated From National University Of Singapore, Bachelor Of Science (Computer Information Sciences)
  • Hansei University [a Pentecostal University in South Korea], (honorary) Doctorate in Business Administration
  • New Covenant International Theological Seminary* (USA):
    Master of Divinity: 1989-1991
  • New Covenant International Theological Seminary* (USA):
    Doctor of Theology: 1993-1995
* New Covenant International Theological Seminary, a "long-distance" school, is most probably a diploma mill, with academic degrees for sale (here). If so, Kong Hee has never taken any courses (not even by mail) normally expected of a pastor in a mainline Christian denomination.

Bethany Christian Centre (Singapore): 6 Jan 1991

  • City Harvest Church: 1989
  • City Harvest Bible Training Center: 1994
  • Harvest Times (quarterly magazine): 1999
  • City Harvest Education Centre: 2002
    O’ School: 2006
Co-Founded with Rev. George Ong:
  • Harvest School of Ministry: 2001
    Malaysian Harvest Christian Fellowship: 2003
  • President, City Harvest Church, Singapore:  1992 - 2010
  • Chairman, Festival of Praise, Singapore: 1997-2001, 2005- ?
  • President, Word of Life, Singapore: Since 1997
  • Board of Reference, Transform World, Indonesia: Since 2005
  • Committee Member, National Council of Churches, Singapore: 1999-2004
  • Board of Advisor, Full Gospel Business Men’s Fellowship International, Singapore: 1996-2000


Tan Ye Peng (陈一平), 39, deputy senior pastor (source)

Tan Ye Peng (陈一平), 39, deputy senior pastor

Lam Leng Hung (林令恒), 44 (source)

Chew Eng Han, 52 (r, 周永汉)

Sharon Tan Shao Yuen ( 陈少媛 ), 36 (source)

(From left) Chew Eng Han, Tan Ye Peng, Sharon Tan Shao Yuen and Lam Leng Hung

City Harvest Church's network (source)

City Harvest Church's network (source)

Serina Wee Gek Yin (r, 黄玉音), 35, ex-CHC finance director, 
was charged on July 25, 2012 (source1source2)


City Harvest Church (a non-denominational megachurch in Singapore claiming a congregation of 33,000 and an average of 23,256 attendees in the month of December 2010) founding pastor Kong Hee (康希) was arrested together with four others from his ministry on 26 June 2012. Mr Kong, deputy Pastor Tan Ye Peng, and three other leaders from their church were picked up from their homes early this morning.

They were taken in for questioning over alleged misuse of church funds and alleged breaches under charity laws.

The police said that the Commercial Affairs Department (CAD) has conducted a thorough investigation and will be charging Kong Hee, Tan Ye Peng, Lam Leng Hung, Chew Eng Han and Tan Shao Yuen Sharon for Conspiracy to commit Criminal Breach of Trust as an Agent under section 409 read with section 109 of the Penal Code, Chapter 224.

Tan Ye Peng, Chew Eng Han and Tan Shao Yuen Sharon will also be charged for Conspiracy to commit Falsification of Accounts under section 477A of the Penal Code, Chapter 224.
All five will be charged in court for the offences on June 27, 2012.

In a statement today, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Home Affairs, Mr Teo Chee Hean said: "I would like to stress that the charges filed by CAD are against five individuals from the City Harvest Church (CHC) regarding the use of Church funds. They are not filed against CHC itself. The CHC is free to continue its church services and activities.

"CAD carries out investigations when it receives information that a criminal offence may have been committed. CAD had previously investigated the National Kidney Foundation and Ren Ci.

"As the matter is now before the courts, we should let the law take its course and avoid speculation or making pre-judgements that may unnecessarily stir up emotions."


On May 31, 2010, CAD commenced an investigation into certain financial transactions of CHC after receiving information of misuse of CHC funds, according to a police statement released today.

Following a "thorough investigation" by the CAD, the Police said the following five individuals will be charged for conspiracy to commit criminal breach of trust as an agent under section 409 read with section 109 of the Penal Code, Chapter 224:

- Kong Hee, 47, then president of CHC Management Board;
- Tan Ye Peng (陈一平), 39, vice-president of CHC Management Board;
- John Lam Leng Hung (林令恒), 44, member of CHC Management Board;
- Chew Eng Han (周永汉), 52, co-shareholder/director of AMAC Capital Partners, investment manager of CHC; 
- Tan Shao Yuen Sharon (陈少媛), 36, finance manager of CHC.

On 25 July 2012, Serina Wee Gek Yin (黄玉音), 35, CHC's ex-finance director, was charged with six counts of criminal breach of trust and four of falsification of accounts.


The Charges

June 27, 2012 (source)

Five senior members of City Harvest Church (CHC), including its founder Kong Hee, were charged in court on Wednesday with misappropriating church funds.

The prosecution is levelling three charges against the five -- involving over S$50 million in total.

This is more than the S$23 million earlier announced by the Commissioner of Charities.

The first charge centres on purported bond investments made by the church in two companies, Xtron Productions and PT The First National Glassware.

These bond investments, which the prosecution said are "sham transactions", were allegedly devised to conceal the diversion of some S$24 million from the church's Building Fund to fund Ho Yeow Sun's music career. Ho is Kong Hee's wife.

Four people are liable for the first charge -- Kong Hee, Tan Ye Peng, Lam Leng Hung and Chew Eng Han.

The second charge relates to a series of transactions that some of the accused had created to clear the purported bond investments off the church's accounts.

They allegedly misappropriated a further S$26.6 million from the church's funds.

The money was said to have circulated through a complicated series of transactions to create the false appearance that the purported sham bond investments had been redeemed.

For these charges, which have been termed as "round-tripping", three people are liable -- Tan Ye Peng, Chew Eng Han and Tan Shao Yuen Sharon.

The third charge relates to the falsification of church's accounts to cover their tracks.

Tan Ye Peng, Chew Eng Han and Tan Shao Yuen Sharon were alleged to have doctored the church's books to give the false appearance that the bond investments had been redeemed.

In all, pastor and church founder Kong Hee faces three charges; senior pastor Tan Ye Peng faces 10 charges; finance manager Tan Shao Yuen Sharon faces seven charges; senior member Chew Eng Han faces 10 charges; and former secretary of the church's management board Lam Leng Hung faces three charges.

All five church members stood solemnly together in the dock when the charges were read to them on Wednesday.

The five have each posted bail of S$500,000 and have had their passports impounded.

Earlier in the morning, a media scrum broke out when Kong Hee and his wife, local songstress Sun Ho, arrived outside the Subordinate Courts.

Supporters belonging to City Harvest Church were also gathered outside the court. Some were there as early as 7.30am and their numbers swelled to over a hundred within an hour.

ps. On 25 July 2012, Serina Wee Gek Yin (黄玉音), 35, CHC's ex-finance director, was charged with six counts of criminal breach of trust and four of falsification of accounts. (source)

More News:

Yahoo!News, 27 June 2012 (here)


Commissioner of Charities suspends governing board members, trustees, employees, agents and Executive members under the Charities Act

(source1. source2)

The Commissioner of Charities (COC) instituted an Inquiry into the City Harvest Church (the Charity) on 31 May 2010 under the Charities Act. Concurrently, the Commercial Affairs Department (CAD) commenced investigations into financial transactions involving several individuals and companies, related or connected to the Charity. Both the COC and CAD have since concluded its Inquiry and investigations, respectively. Separately and independently from CAD, COC has decided to take action under the Charities Act.

COC’s Inquiry revealed misconduct and mismanagement in the administration of the Charity, particularly in relation to the funds that were in the Building Fund which had been raised and earmarked for specific purposes. Financial irregularities of at least $23 million from the Charity’s funds have been discovered. These funds were used with the purported intention to finance Ho Yeow Sun (Kong Hee's wife)’s secular music career to connect with people. There was a concerted effort to conceal this movement of funds from its stakeholders. Refer to Annex for the details of the misconduct and mismanagement.

The COC is concerned about the misconduct and mismanagement in the administration of the Charity. Under the Charities Act and with the consent of the Attorney-General, the COC has suspended the following persons from the exercise of their office or employment as governing board members, officers, agents or employees of the Charity with immediate effect:

  1. Kong Hee1 (Member of the Charity’s Board and Executive Member);
  2. Lam Leng Hung2 (Chairman of the Charity’s Board, Trustee, Agent and Executive Member);
  3. Tan Ye Peng3 (Vice-Chairman of the Charity’s Board, Trustee, Employee, Agent and Executive Member);
  4. Tan Shao Yuen Sharon (Employee and Executive Member);
  5. Chew Eng Han (Agent and Executive Member);
  6. Ho Yeow Sun (Agent and Executive Member);
  7. Kelvin Teo Meng How (Agent, Employee and Executive Member); and
  8. Tan Su Pheng Jacqueline (Employee and Executive Member).
The COC has also suspended the above-named individuals from their Executive Memberships in the Charity with immediate effect.

The COC will also consider taking further courses of action under the Charities Act against these individuals in order to protect the charitable property of the Charity. This may include the removal of these persons from their office as trustee, governing board members, officers, agents or employees of the Charity.

For so long as these persons are suspended, they will be prohibited from taking part or being involved in managing the Charity, representing the Charity on any matters, or attending any of the Charity’s Annual General Meetings, Extraordinary General Meetings and Board meetings.

The normal services of the Charity can continue as usual.

1Kong Hee was the President of the Charity’s Board (till 10 April 2011).
2Lam Leng Hung was the Treasurer of the Charity’s Board, from 7 March 2010 to 10 April 2011.
3Tan Ye Peng was the Vice President of the Charity’s Board till 10 April 2011 [thereafter he was re-designated as Vice-Chairman].



The City Harvest Church is a registered charity since 1993. As at December 2009, the Charity had a congregation size of about 33,000 people. The congregation comprised approximately 728 Executive Members with voting powers, whilst the remaining are Ministry and Ordinary Members.

Based on the Charity’s financial statements for the financial year ended 31 October 2009, the Charity’s income amounted to about $72 million whilst expenses amounted to about $48 million. Its net assets are estimated at $103 million.

In early 2010, the COC received complaints alleging the misuse of the Charity’s funds and informed the CAD, when it assessed that some of these financial transactions may need to be investigated by the CAD.

On 31 May 2010, the COC and the CAD commenced investigations into financial transactions involving several individuals and companies, related to or connected to the Charity. Separately, the COC has decided to take action under the Charities Act.


(A) Misrepresentation on the Use of the Charity’s Funds

In 2002, the Charity’s founders, Kong Hee and Ho Yeow Sun (“Sun Ho”), embarked on a “Crossover Project” [“the Project”], with the purported intention to use Sun Ho’s secular music to connect with people and reach out to non-Christians.

In 2003, an individual [Roland Poon Swee Kay] alleged in the media that the Charity was funding Sun Ho’s music career. This attracted public attention. This individual eventually issued a public apology and retracted his allegations. During that period, the Charity had faced media scrutiny over the allegations. Subsequently, the Charity issued press statements and made several representations to its members to state that they had not funded Sun Ho’s music career. (see "Roland Poon's allegation in 2003" below)

Despite the representations made by the Charity and unknown to the Executive Members, the Charity’s funds were used to fund the Project. Over a period of 3 years (2007 to 2010), at least $23 million was used. However, during this period of time, the Executive members were not told of the actual purpose of the use of these funds.

(B) Use of the Charity’s Funds to Fund the Project

Between December 2007 and May 2010, the Charity’s funds were used to finance the Project under the guise of donations to its affiliated church in Kuala Lumpur, known as the City Harvest Church Kuala Lumpur [“CHCKL”]. The funds were then transmitted by CHCKL to support the Project in the United States. During this period, at least $2.1 million was transferred from the Charity to CHCKL to fund the Project. The Inquiry revealed that Kong Hee, Tan Ye Peng, Kelvin Teo Meng How, Tan Shao Yuen Sharon and Serina Wee Gek Yin were aware of the true purpose of the donations to CHCKL.

In addition, donations and tithes to the Charity were transferred into a private fund known as the Multi-Purpose Account [“MPA”], administered by Serina Wee Gek Yin (the Charity’s ex-Finance Manager and Executive member) and Tan Su Pheng Jacqueline (former Personal Assistant to Kong Hee, current contract staff and Executive member of the Charity). Monies in this account were used to fund the Project. For the period April 2007 to March 2010, the funds were used for purported expenditures of Kong Hee and Sun Ho, amounting to approximately $600,000 and $3 million respectively. Selected donors were asked to transfer their contributions originally meant for the Charity’s “Arise and Build” campaign to the MPA. Some members ceased or reduced their regular tithes to the Charity after they contributed funds to the MPA. Apart from this small group of members, the existence of the MPA was not made known to the Charity’s members. There was even an attempt to conceal the existence of this Account by closing the joint bank account and dealing only in cash transactions, which was kept in a safe at the Charity.

In or around April 2009, a plan was conceptualised by Tan Ye Peng, Chew Eng Han, Serina Wee Gek Yin and Tan Shao Yuen Sharon to transfer monies amounting to $600,000 donated by Wahju Hanafi to the Charity’s Building Fund via a “refund” of Building Fund donations into the MPA to meet some funding needs of the Project, which included US$100,000 to finance a media team from Singapore to publicise and write about Sun Ho’s music career in the United States. Inquiry revealed that the Charity had drafted letters from Wahju Hanafi and one other person indicating that their donations to the Charity were intended for specific Pastors and employees of the Charity as love gifts. It was then arranged for these said Pastors and employees to receive the “refund” as love gifts and immediately thereafter to deposit these love gifts into the MPA. The Inquiry further revealed evidence which strongly suggests that the “refund” letters were backdated, i.e. the letters were dated close to or on the date of the donations and one of the letters was dated before the date of the donations.

(C) Schemes to Avoid Disclosure on Related Party Transactions

Between 2006 and 2008, Kong Hee’s company sold over $3 million worth of merchandise to the Charity. The Inquiry also revealed that Kong Hee did not disclose his interests in these related party transactions in the Charity’s financial statements. In 2008, Kong Hee “refunded” royalties to the Charity amounting to approximately $770,000 from the sale of his merchandise to the Charity from 2006 to 2008. The return of these royalties was ostensibly motivated by concerns that the Charity’s auditors would require Kong Hee’s royalties to be disclosed as related party transactions. The amount “refunded” by Kong Hee was concealed as “sales discount” given to the Charity. Subsequently, the purported refunds were reimbursed to Kong Hee from the MPA and from CHCKL. Kong Hee’s “refund” of royalties to the Charity was therefore cosmetic and he was instead never “out of pocket”. The Inquiry revealed that the individuals who were aware of the above avoidance in disclosure were Kong Hee, Tan Ye Peng, Kelvin Teo Meng How, Tan Shao Yuen Sharon, Serina Wee Gek Yin and Tan Su Pheng Jacqueline.

(D) Governance and Control Issues

Evidence suggested that certain members of the Charity’s Board have been less than prudent in the discharge of their duties toward the Charity and its members. For example, the appointment of Investment Manager, Chew Eng Han’s investment company, was not properly tabled and discussed by the Charity’s Board.

The Inquiry further revealed that when Chew Eng Han suffered financial difficulties, the Charity refunded donations amounting to about $338,000 to him in two separate tranches, i.e. $240,000 and $98,000. However, in respect of the $98,000, the Charity’s Board only gave approval for the refund of donations to Chew Eng Han 9 months after the refunds were made.

The poor corporate governance in the Charity contributed, at least in part, to the fact that the Charity was able to maintain the above-mentioned activities for the past 3 years.


Roland Poon's allegation in 2003

Nine years ago in 2003, businessman and church member, Roland Poon Swee Kay (方瑞家), wrote to the media about the alleged funding of  Ho Yeow Sun aka Sun Ho’s music career by the City Harvest Church (CHC).
He claimed that church funds were used for Ho’s publicity and promotional campaign. Ho is the wife of Rev Kong Hee, the pastor of CHC. Mr Poon also said mixing religion with secular matters was ‘unethical’. In fact, he claimed that he was ‘encouraged’ by his cell group leader to buy Ho’s albums too.
Despite his uneasiness with CHC, he continued to stay in the church because he felt he had invested too much money towards the $48.7 million used for the construction of the church building at Jurong West.
The allegation was vigorously denied by Rev Kong then, who said that not a single cent from church funds was used to buy or to promote Sun’s albums. Integrity, he added, was a core value of the church.

Rev Kong said, “We always try to be as transparent as we can in all our activities. Our accounts are audited yearly by a public accounting firm.”
Other CHC members were also complaining about Rev Kong always giving updates of his wife’s singing and promotional activities during church service. One said, “Even before the name of God is glorified, the husband always praises her first and shows her video.” Another said church members were asked to buy her albums. One even commented that the church was fast becoming a “personality cult thing”.
With regard to all the negative comments, Ho defended herself, “Hey, my conscience is clear, and I’ve not done anything wrong.”
Kong also defended himself with regard to giving updates of his wife’s music activities to the congregation during church services. He said, “It’s the same when we support and celebrate any member of our church who is making a significant difference in the marketplace.”
He said the church took this approach: When one member succeeds, everyone rejoices.
A CHC spokesman added that church members were not pressured to buy Ho’s albums. “We just let them know that her albums are available and let them decide whether to buy them”, the spokesman said. The spokesman also confirmed that Ho does not pocket any of the church takings.
A couple of weeks later, Mr Poon apologised publicly for the allegations he made about CHC’s support of Sun Ho’s music career. The businessman issued five apologies in The Straits Times, Lianhe Zaobao, Lianhe Wanbao, Shin Min Daily News and The New Paper. The advertisements in all cost more than $33,000 and was paid for by an anonymous donor who knew of Poon’s financial difficulties. In his apology, Poon retracted all the statements/allegations he had made regarding Rev Kong, Ho and CHC.
The apology note was drafted by Poon together with Chew Eng Han, a board member of the church before it was sent to CHC’s lawyers for vetting. After clearing the lawyers, it was then sent to the various newspapers for publication. Incidentally, Chew Eng Han was also the Investment Manager of CHC and one of the 5 arrested by the Commercial Affairs Department (CAD) on 26 Jun 2012.
Subsequently, Rev Kong asked the congregation to forgive Mr Poon and to pray for the businessman.
Kong reiterated, “Her (Ho’s) success, which has been achieved through her own talent and efforts, has been unfairly discredited by the false allegations. However, she believes that in time, the truth will dawn.”
That was 9 years ago.
Nine years later, a different story is emerging. CAD arrested 5 persons connected to CHC, including Kong and Chew, yesterday (26 Jun). They were arrested for Conspiracy to commit Criminal Breach of Trust as an Agent under the Penal Code. In addition, Chew will also be charged for Conspiracy to commit Falsification of Accounts.
And in its press statement, the Commissioner of Charities (COC) published details of the misconduct and mismanagement in CHC on the same day the 5 men were arrested.
Specifically referring to Poon’s allegation, COC wrote:

(A) Misrepresentation on the Use of the Charity’s Funds
1 In 2002, the Charity’s founders, Kong Hee and Ho Yeow Sun (“Sun Ho”), embarked on a “Crossover Project” [“the Project”], with the purported intention to use Sun Ho’s secular music to connect with people and reach out to non-Christians.
2 In 2003, an individual alleged in the media that the Charity was funding Sun Ho’s music career. This attracted public attention. This individual eventually issued a public apology and retracted his allegations. During that period, the Charity had faced media scrutiny over the allegations. Subsequently, the Charity issued press statements and made several representations to its members to state that they had not funded Sun Ho’s music career.
3 Despite the representations made by the Charity and unknown to the Executive Members, the Charity’s funds were used to fund the Project. Over a period of 3 years (2007 to 2010), at least $23 million was used. However, during this period of time, the Executive members were not told of the actual purpose of the use of these funds.

Roland Poon Swee Kay's public apology

14-step quick guide to being a rich man in the name of God

Kong Hee Fatt Choy = Kong Hee is rich.
Kong Hei Fatt Choy (恭喜發財, Wishing you wealth), a popular greeting during Chinese New Year

An Analysis into the wealth of City Harvest Church

(source1, source2, source3)

1. Clever packaging of Sunday services

2. Extra revenue in the form of advertisements, sales of CDs

3. Efficient collection of tithes

4. 30-fold, 60-fold, 100-fold returns on your church donations

5. Quality of customers

6. Kill off competition

7. Providing a place where the rich can network

8. Preach what people like to hear

9. God pays for the returns, not the church

10. Social pressure to conform in church settings and ease of influence

11, Tremendous future earning power

12, Stable earnings in times of depression

13. Using Prosperity as a theme to appeal to customers

14. Tax benefits as church is registered as a charity

Although I am aware that City Harvest is one of the richest churches in Singapore, I am still shocked that it is rich enough to pay SGD310 million for a stake in Suntec City. Nevertheless, an entity which is able to amass such wealth is certainly worth studying. I was determined to understand the secrets to the church's wealth.

I apologize upfront if the points raised give offense to loyal followers of City Harvest Church. Please regard this article as a business analysis of the factors that contribute to the wealth of City Harvest Church, not as an insinuation that the Church got rich through questionable means. The fact is that CHC is very rich and it is a fascinating academic exercise to examine its sources of wealth. Just treat it as a business case study. I have tried my best to stick to the facts. Please correct me if there are factual mistakes. However, if there are differences in opinions, please disagree with courtesy.

1. Clever packaging of Sunday services

The income of a church is dependent on the tithes collected (10% of income from church-members). Therefore, the earning power of a church is highly dependent on its ability to retain its existing church members and attract new ones. The larger the church membership, the greater its earnings.

I watched a sample of CHC weekend service on its website. Compared to the boring Sunday classes I attended as a kid, CHC church service was most refreshing (Watch "The 10 Laws Of The Harvest"). The beginning part resembles a rock concert with good singing and enthusiastic audience. It is an entertaining way to enjoy your Sunday mornings. Going to church becomes a weekly event to look forward to rather than a chore to attend to.

With church services so well packaged for its customers, its customer retention rate and new customer acquisition figures should look good.

2. Extra revenue in the form of advertisements, sales of CDs

This church is unlike the other churches I know. It generates extra revenue through advertisements during its Sunday service (watch the videos). It sells audio CDs on its website. There is an online shopping cart for convenience to those who want to buy online.

3. Efficient collection of tithes

Church-members can pay their tithe online via credit card, eNets or even Giro!! Once members started donating using Giro, the earnings quality of the church improves. Donation collected via Giro tend to be more stable.

With a globalised economy, people travel round the world a lot and may miss Sunday services. In the past, the churches will lose income when these members fail to turn up to pay their tithe. Now, with online payment, they can continue collecting the tithe even when the church-member is working overseas for an extended period of time. With Giro, the church can continue collecting tithes for a few more months even when the member leaves the church as people have a habit of forgetting what they pay on Giro.

4. 30-fold, 60-fold, 100-fold returns on your church donations

This is where the genius of CHC lies and the secret to its superior earning power. In fact, I have yet to encounter any public-listed company on SGX, HKSE, NYSE, Nasdaq that demonstrates better potential.

The pastor preaches that God will give 30-fold, 60-fold, 100-fold returns on your tithe. But, you have to be generous in your donations first so that you will receive in harvest proportions. I guess that is the origin of the name City Harvest. Please watch the video  "The 10 Laws Of The Harvest" yourself in its entirety and interpret for yourself.

It is a message that cleverly uses an astute understanding of human nature to maximize profits. If I were a CHC member, I will be tempted to increase my tithe as much as possible. Not mincing my words, I am doing it out of pure greed. I do not think I will be alone. It is perfectly fine if members of CHC strongly disagree and thinks that I am not representative for most of them. After all, I can only speak for myself.

5. Quality of customers

With the 100-fold return message, the kind of church members attracted will be most conducive to profit-making. Money-minded people will be attracted to the church. These money-minded people tend to be ambitious and have a great desire to make lots of money. Millionaire minds have a higher chance to become rich. Hence, the quality of customers that CHC attracts are of the highest quality. The richer the church-member, the higher is the church's tithe per member.

Customer quality will be enhanced through the passage of time due to survivor bias. Suppose out of this pool of Millionaire-Mind Christians, 50% become satisfactorily rich and the remaining 50% still unsatisfactorily middle-class. The 50% who got rich will donate even more because they think their source of wealth comes from their donations. It is most unlikely they will cut back on their tithes because they will be afraid God will punish them by cutting back the returns. If they are not afraid, the church will be there to warn them not to do so. The remaining 50% who did not get rich will be disillusioned and probably leave the church. The loss is of little significance to the church. These people are not rich and their tithes will not amount to much.

Many Christians will be disgusted with the concept of using tithes to get rich. These people will probably leave the church after attending a few Sunday services. Again, the loss is of little significance to CHC. These people will not be highly profitable to the church even if they are rich because they are not going to tithe as much as the others who believe their tithes is the way to wealth.

To the credit of the Pastor, I think he has devised a wonderful process of filtering out non-profitable customers and sucking in the lucrative ones. There is only so much physical space that a church can have to service its church-members. To maximize profits, the church has to ensure that each unit of space is used for servicing lucrative customers.

6. Kill off competition

CHC has tremendous economic moat [i.ea business' ability to maintain competitive advantages over its competitors in order to protect its long-term profits and market share from competing firms] that kills off competition. In the video "The 10 Laws of The Harvest", the Pastor cited Law #5 "Your Seed must be planted in Good Ground" which is an effective weapon in killing off his competition - the smaller churches. Many Christians feel that they ought to donate to the needy, smaller churches rather than rich mega-churches like CHC. The Pastor's argument is that you do not get good returns like 100-fold in the small churches. You have to donate to mega-churches to maximize returns on your tithe because they have a track record (rich church members). In other words, the seed is not planted in good ground when you donate to the small churches. In his own words, "I don't always give to the neediest but to the ground that will give the greatest yield". To illustrate his point, he used an analogy on weak banks and strong banks. You do not deposit your money in a weak bank because it desperately needs fresh funds to survive. You deposit your money in a strong bank which invests your money wisely and yields good returns.

The church has an iron-grip on its members who believe its message. As illustrated previously, its customer base is of the highest quality. This is its track record. Existing church-members will definitely not move to another smaller, needier church with poorer track record. It has a very strong economic moat as it is very hard for its competitors to get its customers to switch over.

7. Providing a place where the rich can network

As the Pastor said, his church provides a good ground on which you can grow your riches. Rightly so, indeed. For property agents or insurance agents trying to hit their sales quota, City Harvest Church will be an ideal place to hunt for lucrative clients. This church concentrates several rich and money-minded people into a single location. The church offers a unique advantage to sell things. In a religious setting, people tend less to be on their guard and can be more easily persuaded to part with their money.

Businessmen also like to network in places where there are rich and powerful people who will come in handy in future. The Pastor has done a good job in gathering such people in his church and it makes good sense to make use of this advantage by joining the church.

The rich will attract more rich and the gathering moss snowballs to provide an ever-rising pool of donation to the church.

8. Preach what people like to hear.

As a teenager, I was discouraged when I read Bible verses like Matthew 19:23-24 "I tell you the truth, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God." and Matthew 6:24 "No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth."

It seems like if I become rich, I will be condemned to hell.

In the video "Rich God? Poor God?", the Pastor preaches that it is absolutely ok to be rich. Some prophets of God were very rich. (Abraham, David, Solomon)

There is nothing more musical to a money-minded person than to hear that God is on your side in your pursuit of money. The church-members who are more money-minded will love this and donate even more.

9. God pays for the returns, not the church.

The church collects the money, but God pays for the returns. The church does not need to pay a single cent for the 30-fold, 60-fold, 100-fold returns on the donations.This is as good as you do the work for me, but not only do I not pay you, I shall also collect your salary. You toil and sweat, but I shall eat your bread. God must surely be a miracle worker and people will pay handsomely for his service. I cannot think of a more advantageous economic position to be in to be able to collect money rendered by a miracle worker.

10. Social pressure to conform in church settings and ease of influence

If everyone around you donates, it is hard not to. When everyone else makes sacrifice, the one who does not will look like an outcast. There is tremendous pressure to conform in such a herd setting.

11. Tremendous future earning power

Take a look at the congregation and you will notice the large number of young people. The income growth of young people is the fastest in the population. In the Pastor's words, "You may be poor today, but you will not be poor all your life". That is a long-term business plan in cultivating its customers.

Therefore, if CHC can be viewed as a growth stock, its prospects are very bright as its young customers will accelerate its earnings.

12. Stable earnings in times of depression

Besides being a growth stock, CHC can also be viewed as a defensive and safe stock. People pray hardest when they fall in hard times. Strangely, some people have an urge to tithe when they are in financial troubles.

In fact, in the video (The 10 Laws Of The Harvest), a couple came on stage. They talked about the dire straits they were in when they started out. Things change when God challenged them to GIVE themselves out of poverty (exact words from the speaker). Despite not having any money, they still pledged $250 to the building fund. In his own words again, "we often emptied our savings to give to the House of God knowing that this will be the answer to our financial problems". Hence, not only will the church earnings be stable in times of depression, it may even grow.

13. Using Prosperity as a theme to appeal to customers

The Pastor preaches Prosperity Gospel which resolves around money. His business genius lies in choosing this theme for his church. Money has universal appeal. Everyone worships money regardless of race, culture, age, gender, sexual orientation. In one fell swoop, he has enlarged his market to cover the entire world. It is much easier to convert people to your belief by dangling money and promising great prosperity. After all, who does not love money?

By enlarging his potential market catchment with a greater chance of increasing membership, more donations will flow in.

14. Tax benefits as church is registered as a charity

This creates a huge, unfair advantage compared to all other businesses. This is what landed CHC in controversy. Enough has been said. If City Harvest Church is listed on the Singapore Stock Exchange, I will certainly buy it. It will be one stock that I am confident of hitting a return of 30-fold, 60-fold, 100-fold returns.



People tend not to question critically when it comes to religion. A charming smooth talker can easily sway minds with his interpretation of the Bible. In the final analysis, Faith is about simply believing. You cannot approach it scientifically because there is no way to test religious theories using the scientific method. We will only know the real truth when judgment day comes.

The danger is that there is no accountability on the part of the preacher on whether his teachings are true or not. Even he himself cannot be sure that his interpretations is 100% correct. Given human nature, the interpretations will tend to be self-serving. In fact, it is not only dangerous to the students but to the teacher as well. People will believe their own lies if it yields tempting benefits. That was how Wall Street drank its own Kool-Aid.

While I respect the Pastor for his business savvy, I cannot agree with his interpretations of the Bible. I pray for good health, peace and harmony for my family. Money-minded as I am, I am not comfortable with commercializing my relationship with God by asking for money. The Christian God that I know from my own reading of the Bible is not 财神爷 (God of Wealth). Of course, if God wants to drop money from heaven on me, I will be more than happy to embrace it.

CHC has 47 affiliate "Harvest" churches in 2010. CHC has direct supervision over 29 of them, while 18 come under the oversight of Harvest School of Ministry led by Rev. George Ong.

Affiliate Harvest Churches (source):

1.Heart of God Church (Singapore)15.The Bethel Missions Church (India)
2.Shekinah Harvest Church (Singapore)16.Indonesia Harvest Church (Indonesia)
3.Church of Singapore, Harvest (Singapore)17.GPdI Lippo Cikarang (Indonesia)
4.City Harvest Church Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia)18.GPdI Elohim Sidoarjo (Indonesia)
5.City Harvest Christian Fellowship, Sibu (Malaysia)19.GPdI Karmel (Indonesia)
6.Rhema Church, Sitiawan (Malaysia)20.Taipei New Life Church (Taiwan)
7.City Harvest Church, Penang (Malaysia)21.Taipei Hsin Tien Covenant Church (Taiwan)
8.City Harvest Christian Fellowship, Kuching (Malaysia)22.Tainan Rhema Christian Church (Taiwan)
9.Harvest Christian Fellowship, Johor Bahru (Malaysia)23.Pingtung Peace Church (Taiwan)
10.Harvest Christian Fellowship, Muar (Malaysia)24.Grace Harvest Church (Taiwan)
11.Ipoh Harvest Church (Malaysia)25.Passion 99 Harvest Church (Taiwan)
12.Taiping Harvest Church (Malaysia)26.Da Di Harvest Church (Taiwan)
13.Kampar Harvest Church (Malaysia)27.Taipei New City Church (Taiwan)
14.Kuala Lumpur Harvest Church (Malaysia)28.City Harvest Church Sydney (Australia)

From $127k HDB flat to $9.3m Sentosa Cove penthouse


How did the Kongs get from a $127,000 HDB flat to a $9.3 million Sentosa Cove penthouse?
Pastor Kong Hee and his family started with a five-room HDB flat in Tampines, which they bought for $127,000.

They later sold it for $420,000, The New Paper reported in 2010.

From there, the Kongs bought a Horizon Towers unit in River Valley. It had a private lift, two living rooms, four bedrooms and a compact kitchen.

The flooring was marble, with a carpeted family area and a walk-in wardrobe which showed off the fashionista side of Ms Ho.

It was done up in a mix of American classic and contemporary styles.

In 2010, they sold this apartment and moved into The Suites at Central on Devonshire. It was reportedly sold to them for $2.6 million.

There was also a $28,000-a-month Hollywood Hills estate which Ms Ho rented while pursuing her career as a singer in the United States.

[The New Paper noted in 2010 that the Hollywood Hills property was worth US$5.6 million and Sun Ho’s neighbors were believed to be Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie. The singer was reportedly living at the mansion with her son, a nanny, her assistant and several family members. She shuttled between the US and Singapore.

The New Paper visited the Hollywood Hills and “spotted a black SUV and a black Mercedes Benz CLK550 driving in and out of the estate, which has four buildings in all.”]

Today, the Kongs live in a luxury Sentosa Cove penthouse which cost $9.3 million, according to The New Paper.

The 487 sq m apartment is more than four times bigger than their Tampines flat and has an ocean view.