A huge scandal has been cast over the Brazilian Church, as some of the country’s most-prominent church leaders have been accused of conspiracy and money laundering from congregants’ donations.
The charges were unveiled earlier this week by Sao Paulo’s public prosecutor who revealed that a complaint had been made against Bishop Edir Macedo and three leaders of the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God.
The investigation will look into $234 million of churchgoer donations going back many years.
According to the prosecutor Luis Martins de Oliveira, allegations suggest that some leaders of the accused church would have used the services of a home exchange to send funds illegally to the United States.
Bishop Edir Macedo is a controversial Brazilian televangelist who established his church in 1977. He has previously been accused of charlatanism and has done time in jail. He has now been charged along with his financial director, Alba Maria Silva da Costa.
The church leaders have also been accused of abusing believers’ faith by proclaiming "false promises and threats that spiritual and economic blessings would only be bestowed upon those who made financial sacrifices to the church.”
According to the charges, the church opened two offshore accounts in the early 1990s, in the Cayman Islands and in Jersey, in order to direct donations out of the country.
In 2009, Sao Paulo state Attorney General filed a complaint against Macedo and eight church leaders on money laundering.
"There is evidence that the donation money was used to attend to the personal interests of those being accused," the public prosecutor said in a statement at that time.
The State Court of Appeals, however, dismissed the case in October 2010, so that the investigation could be sent to the Federal Court.
Through “Prosperity Theology,” taught in the church, committed believers are told to be generous with their donations, and that if they were, it would help them achieve greater material wealth.
The controversial church is the owner of one of the top media outlets in Brazil, and has churches in Europe, U.S., Africa and Asia.
Currently the church is building “Solomon’s Temple” in Sao Paulo, which will cost around $75 million, according to The Guardian.
In a statement, the Universal Church has rebuked all accusations: "We cannot talk about something we know nothing about. From what we can tell through the media, these are the same old accusations … that have always been shown to be untrue."