The last of the six defendants, Serina Wee, took the stand today as a defense witness.
Serina Wee, who was City Harvest Church’s finance manager and also Xtron’s accountant, began her examination-in-chief conducted by Senior Counsel Andre Maniam, this morning.
In his opening statement, Maniam noted that the prosecution often grouped the accused together when putting suggestions, for example, saying “sham bond accused” when the emails referred to only involved two or three of them. Maniam invited the court to look at each accused person as an individual when considering the case, even though the six are charged with conspiracy. If there were dots to connect, said Maniam, they would be that all six defendants did what they did with the belief that they were forwarding the mission of the Crossover Project and that they had done nothing illegal.
Maniam began his examination-in-chief by bringing his client to back to 2002, when the Crossover Project first started. The court heard that the accounts department in CHC handled the accounting entries and payments for the Crossover Project, and Wee personally handled the accounts. Wee also testified that she attended a concert in Taipei in 2003 where she experienced first-hand all that she had been hearing about the Crossover. She recalled that it was an “eye-opener”: Sun Ho sang songs that touched the hearts of many young attendees, and when she shared her testimony of God’s love, many had tears in their eyes, she told the court. Wee also testified that many in the audience went forward to receive Christ when an altar call was given. Wee told the court seeing that had a great impact on her.
Among other things, Maniam established today that since the inception of Xtron, CHC’s senior and deputy senior pastor, Kong Hee and Tan Ye Peng, had been involved in the managing the Crossover aspect of Xtron’s business. In the beginning, when Xtron had no staff, it was the church’s human resource manager Wong Foong Ming, Wee and her team that provided the auditors with information for the audit report. The defense counsel produced a letter and emails from CHC’s auditors to show that the audit team was aware that CHC staff were involved in the daily operations of Xtron and had no issue with this.
Maniam also showed that since Xtron was founded, it had been the practice of the CHC board not to minute down Xtron’s affairs in its minutes since Xtron was not a church-related matter. In an email that Wong sent to Tan, she questioned if CHC board should discuss Xtron’s matters. She also noted that there was no need to minute anything on CHC’s side and discussion on Xtron would not be official.
It was also Wee’s understanding that as long as there were no common directors sitting on the board of CHC and Xtron, related party disclosures would not be necessary; this was something that had been conveyed by auditor Foong Daw Ching.
Maniam next brought the court to an email in which Wee had suggested resolving Xtron’s cashflow by transferring CHC’s graphics and editorial departments to Xtron, and charging CHC a retainer sum of $50,000 for graphics and editorial services.
This would improve Xtron’s cashflow, but at the same time, the church would also benefit from salary expense savings, Wee explained. She was at the time mainly involved in keeping Xtron’s accounts and budgets.
The prosecution has sought to show that the accused moved money out of the church under the guise of rental and retainer payments in order to keep Xtron afloat.
Wee also acknowledged today that not all Xtron’s meeting minutes reflected meetings that actually took place. She had assumed that Xtron was required as per its board resolution to hold six board meetings just like CHC, and therefore she drew up board meeting minutes and the Xtron directors signed them. Wee told the court she had not thought it was a problem, since her understanding was that what the Xtron directors approved was more important than the timing of approvals, to the auditors. Thus, the timing of her presenting documents for their signatures was not an issue, in her mind.
Wee also explained to the court that while she believed that the US album project would be profitable, one particular Excel sheet showed a deficit because it was a record of Xtron’s overall operating cashflow.
Court resumes tomorrow at 9.30am.