Serina Wee gave suggestions to resolve Xtron’s cash flow problems, but she did not have the authority to make approvals, she testified in court today.
It was fund manager Chew Eng Han who suggested to Serina Wee that she should start an accounting firm to avoid conflict of interest when City Harvest Church’s building project started. The court heard this morning at the City Harvest trial how Wee’s accounting consultancy came into being.
The church was aiming to bid for the F1 pit building—codenamed “Project Shamgar”— to use for its worship location. According to Wee, Chew’s suggestion not to have the same accountant handle both CHC’s and Xtron’s accounts made sense. At that point in time, there were plans for Wee to move to Xtron and assume the role of finance manager. However, she had up till then been handling the accounts on a voluntary basis for entities in the CHC group, such as Business Breakthrough Group and Urban Entertainment Pte Ltd, on top of Xtron. Once the building project started, Xtron and UEPL would have a lot of dealings which would lead to a conflict of interest.
Wee thus embarked on plans to set up Advante, which would handle Xtron’s accounting, as well as continue the accounting services she had been performing for some of the other entities.
The court saw an email in which Wee updated Tan Ye Peng about her intention. In the email, she said that because she had been handling the accounts of various organizations, it did not make sense for her to be on Xtron’s payroll.
Wee also said in the email that starting her own accounting firm was good career advancement for her and her staff.
The prosecution produced an email in which Sharon Tan, the church’s finance manager asked the directors of various organizations for information on their staff’s salary as part of a staff salary review exercise requested by CHC’s senior pastor, Kong Hee. Advante was one of the firms involved in this exercise. The Deputy Public Prosecutor asked if this was an example of the church coordinating the salary of the staff in the CHC group and if the church had control over the salaries.
Wee told the court that it was not about coordinating the salaries: each entity had to determine how much to pay its staff according to its cash flow. She explained that this exercise was to look after the staff who had left church employ to work in these other entities, to try and peg their salaries and bonuses to what their counterparts who remained in church employ were getting.
Wee, however, clarified that as much as she wanted to peg the salary of Advante’s staff to CHC’s salary scheme, if her business did not do well, she would not be able to do so.
The prosecutor then asked if Kong determined the bonuses of Advante staff. Wee said no. Sharon Tan had said in an email that Advante would be following CHC’s bonus scheme to pay half a month’s bonus to the staff because Wee had indicated to Sharon Tan her intention to pay out the same bonus as CHC was paying.
Later, the prosecutor made the accusation that the boundaries between the two entities were “fluid” because there were parties in CHC making decisions leading to Xtron getting into a deficit cash flow and needing more money; at the same time, the same people were sitting on the church management board with the power to make decisions with regards to the church’s transactions with Xtron.
Wee disagreed with this; she could give suggestions, she said, but she did not have the authority to approve key decisions. There were clear roles for each individual to play.
Through various pieces of email evidence, the court saw that in financing the Crossover Project, donations had been solicited directly from individuals, but some of funds had also been gained by asking members to give what they would have pledged to the building fund towards Xtron instead.
Wee agreed that this was true, but explained that she had checked with the auditors that this was something the members could do. In addition, the individuals also understood that their money would be going toward the Crossover Project.
Court resumes at 9.30am tomorrow.
中文报道 – 城市丰收审讯：黄反驳检方指CHC与思创之前界限模糊的指控