Poon says sorry; pastor asks church to forgive

Businessman withdraws allegations about City Harvest Church and singer Ho Yeow Sun, and church prays to forgive him over the weekend
The Straits Times (Singapore), Jan. 27, 2003
http://straitstimes.asia1.com.sg/
By Samuel Lee

The man who made allegations about City Harvest Church’s support of pastor-singer Ho Yeow Sun’s pop career has apologised publicly.

And in five sermons over the weekend, Ho’s husband, church founder and senior pastor Reverend Kong Hee, asked the congregation to forgive the man.

Two weeks ago, Mr Roland Poon Swee Kay contacted the press to complain about what he said were improper practices by Rev Kong and his wife.

Last Friday, the 53-year-old businessman issued four apologies in The Straits Times, Lianhe Zaobao, Lianhe Wanbao and Shin Min Daily News. A fifth apology appeared in The New Paper last Saturday.

In all, they cost $33,372.06. A source close to Mr Poon said yesterday that the amount was paid by an anonymous donor who knew of the businessman’s financial difficulties.

In the half-page apology in The Straits Times, Mr Poon, a member of the church, said he had fed false information to journalists from Life! and Today via e-mail and telephone conversations.

He also retracted all previous statements he had made regarding Rev Kong, Ho and the church.

Some of his earlier remarks were aired on Channel NewsAsia on Jan 17. This was followed by a Page 1 story in Today on Jan 18, which claimed that some church members had expressed uneasiness over City Harvest’s support of Ho’s pop career.

After reading the report, Ho, 31, who was then in Taiwan, broke down in tears.

In a Life! story published last Monday, she said that she had done nothing wrong.

Her husband also denied Mr Poon’s allegations. Rev Kong said that no church funds had been used for Ho’s pop career promotion, and that it was normal practice for the church to support and celebrate the secular success of its members.

The Chinese press also picked up the story.

Ho, who has been the church’s music pastor since 1993, launched her pop career last year.

Her first album, Sun With Love, sold more than 100,000 copies last year.

She recently launched her second work, Sun*day. All proceeds from both albums are pledged to charity.

She also sang at last Friday’s MTV Asia Awards, and was nominated for Favourite Artiste – Singapore.

As a result of all the news, members of City Harvest, which is in Jurong West, say they have been under a lot of ‘unnecessary’ scrutiny.

UFM 1003 DJ Danny Yeo, 30, for one, said he had been bombarded with phone calls.

‘I tell people that I’m still attending City Harvest and that it takes more than reading headlines and newspapers to make a judgment about the church,’ he said.

Last Friday, Life! also published a response from the City Harvest management board.

The letter reiterated Rev Kong’s stand that no church funds were used to finance Ho’s pop career. It added that there was no hard-selling of her two CDs in the church and no question of a personality cult forming.

That Mr Poon’s retraction in The Straits Times appeared on the same day as the church’s reply has raised some eyebrows among observers.

However, Rev Kong and church board member Chew Eng Han explained yesterday that it was pure coincidence.

The board had already submitted its statement to the newspaper last Wednesday, before the church received a call from Mr Poon later that day.

‘He voluntarily met up with me and a few board members at Fullerton Hotel on Wednesday evening,’ said Mr Chew, 42, a general manager of an American bank.

‘There, he told us he realised his foolishness after reading the positive remarks from other members of the church in the Life! article last Monday.’

He added that Mr Poon’s turn-around came after the businessman telephoned Sri Lanka-based clergyman, Bishop Jebanayagam, for advice last week.

Mr Poon could not be reached for comment and has not been attending service since Jan 18.

A source close to him said that he had met the bishop during the latter’s visits over the past eight years.

Bishop Jebanayagam apparently told him to come clean with City Harvest if he wished to be truthful, and that he would be forgiven.

Together with Mr Chew, Mr Poon drafted the apology last Wednesday night, got it vetted by City Harvest’s lawyers last Thursday and submitted it for publication the same day.

Mr Chew said that Mr Poon also revealed that his quotes to Today were attributed to several church members, including two identified as ‘Mr Png’ and ‘Mr Lee’.

He had contacted The Straits Times variously as ‘Roland Poon’ and ‘Swee Kay’.

Mr Chew said: ‘We have already forgiven him and have also asked him to come back to church next week.’

Rev Kong asked his congregation, which numbers 14,000, during his five weekend services to forgive the businessman.

‘My wife and I have forgiven him and so has the church. We’re not going to single him out and he can remain anonymous. That’s the good thing about being in a big church,’ he said.

Still, he felt that the church’s credibility – especially that of its community service here and in the region – had been unfairly undermined by the episode.

Rev Kong also said his wife remained badly shattered.

He said: ‘All she has been saying since she came back from Taiwan last week for MTV is how all her hard work has been for nothing.

‘Her 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.’

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