Months after being sentenced to eight years in prison for misappropriating $50 million in church funds, Singapore's City Harvest Church founder and Senior Pastor Kong Hee returned to court to plead for the ruling to be overturned.
According to Channel News Asia, earlier this week, Kong's lawyer, Edwin Tong, argued that all three of the criminal convictions against the pastor be overturned, claiming he simply put money forward to support the church's mission.
While Kong, 51, is accused of funneling a staggering $35 million into the career of his wife, popstar Sun Ho, Tong argued that the singer, who is also a CHC past, was, in fact synonymous with the Crossover Project - the church's mission to reach out to non-Christians through pop music. He also contended that even if the church's monies had been "wrongfully used" to bankroll Ho's career, it did not mean that Kong had necessarily been dishonest.
"It is beyond question that the accused believed wholeheartedly that they were using church funds for an approved church purpose," Tong explained.
In January, a judge ruled that Kong and five other CHC members participated in the misusing millions of dollars that were set to be used for investments and building-related projects into sham bonds. All six of the convicted church members have appealed their guilty verdicts and sentences, pleading innocence.
The prosecution has insisted that Kong and the others were well aware that they were misusing the church's money and said that the sentences are "manifestly inadequate," calling on Kong to face a jail term of 11 to 12 years instead.
Before sentencing, state prosecutors said it was "the largest amount of charity funds ever misappropriated in Singapore's legal history".
For the past five years, Kong and the others accused denied any wrongdoing and dismissed reports that they controlled management company Xtron, which was handling Ho's career.
Despite his uncertain future, Kong has maintained a positive appearance, regularly taking to social media to share photos of his family and congregation.
"Prayer is the key to revival," he wrote on Sept.3. "I am so grateful to the Lord Jesus that City Harvest Church (Official) members are a praying people. We have the assurance of this promise: 'For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon Me and go and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart' (Jer. 29:11-13)."
The Straits Times reported that the trial will resume on Friday, with former CHC fund manager Chew Eng Han and former finance manager Sharon Tan expected to present their own appeals.