Pastor Saeed Abedini Says He Doesn't Want $200K at Center of Church Lawsuit, Blames Ex-Wife

(Photo: Facebook; Joshua Springs)Naghmeh Panahi (L) and her estranged husband, Pastor Saeed Abedini (R). In inset photo is Merrily Hagerman (L) and her husband, Pastor Jerel Hagerman of Joshua Springs Calvary Chapel in Yucca Valley, California.

Embattled persecuted pastor Saeed Abedini shot down claims by a California church that he demanded nearly $200,000 in donations the organization raised to purchase his family a home while he was imprisoned in Iran, arguing that his family already had a home and other property.

Last December, the church, Joshua Springs Calvary Chapel, located in Yucca Valley, California, filed a lawsuit in the San Bernardino District Court in a bid to settle what the church said was a dispute over the money.

The church claims in the lawsuit that shortly after his release in January 2016, Abedini implicitly demanded that the funds be given to him. Church officials argued that given that he and his ex-wife Naghmeh are legally separated and that the church had collected donations to buy a house for Naghmeh and their two children, "a substantial controversy exists concerning entitlement to the charitable donations."

"Plaintiff (Joshua Springs Calvary Chapel) cannot distribute the benefits because it cannot determine which of the competing claimants, if any, is entitled to the said funds," the lawsuit states.

In a statement posted to his Facebook page on Sunday, Abedini denied ever making any claim to the donations.

"There is a lot of misinformation regarding the situation with Joshua Springs Calvary Chapel. At no time did I ever threaten to sue them. Nor did I ever say that I wanted the money for myself," he said.

"The purpose of my call was simply to inquire as to what happened to the money. I had never been notified at all, concerning anything regarding money that they raised in my name. I also wanted to understand why they never called me directly, to find out my thoughts about how the money might be dispersed. I called to speak to the pastor, but he did not respond. Instead, a day after he had his lawyer return the call and inform me that there was nothing to speak about, that it was being handled by the courts. Had they taken any time at all to call me, they might have discovered that I didn't care about the money and the whole thing would have been avoided," Abedini said.

A hearing for the case is now set for June 26, but Abedini says he has no interest in going to court to fight for the money because it isn't the Christian thing to do.

"I do not wish to go to court about it, and never did. I don't believe Christians should sue each other. And I don't care about the money," he said.

He further explained that his family was not destitute when he was arrested and argued that he and his ex-wife already had a home at the time the church was raising funds to help them secure a house.

"What I want people to understand is that they raised money in my name, under the false belief that Naghmeh and I could not afford to buy our own home. This is not true. We had property valued at $340,000 as well as a joint bank account with $130,000 in it and a house $200,000 and stock valued at least $800,000 and my book testimony deal $120,000. (totally 1/5 Million dollars which disappear[ed] a month after accusation was released by Naghmeh," he said of his ex-wife.

"I do not know why she allowed them to believe we had no money. That is a question only she can answer," he added.

He claimed that a week before he began serving his prison sentence in Iran, Naghmeh asked him to give her full power of attorney. She then used that power to destroy him financially, he said.

"While I was in prison she sold the property we owned and emptied out the bank account and sold the land and stock and canceled the book deal and much more. THAT is the money I am concerned about. THAT money was joint marital assets, yet she was able to access it and leave me nothing with no explanation required from the courts, or given to me," he said.

A source familiar with the divorce matter between Naghmeh and Saeed, told The Christian Post Wednesday, however, that the home the former couple lived in was purchased by Nagmeh's parents as a gift to her.

Court documents in the divorce proceeding, the source said, can show that when Naghmeh and Saeed got married, her parents, who operate a business, made a $35,000 down payment on a $170,000 house in 2006. 

By 2009, Naghmeh's parents paid off the mortgage to the property they dubbed the Pennfield property. They then turned over the property to her as a gift. The source said that sometime between 2007 and 2009, Saeed subsequently added his name to the title of the property.

Shortly after that, however, Saeed allegedly forced Naghmeh to get a $110,000 mortgage on the property and removed his name from the title because he had no credit and did not work at the time.

About that same time, which the source says was in 2009, Saeed allegedly abused Naghmeh's parents and had them get a mortgage on their own home to give Naghmeh an extra $170,000 as well. When asked what the abuse entailed, the source alleged that Saeed "physically beat [Naghmeh's] dad and broke his nose and sines (sic) and face injuries where he had to have two surgeries."

The source said the police were called but Naghmeh's father refused to press charges. CP reached out to Saeed for comment on the allegations Wednesday but he did not provide a response at the time this report was published.

According to the source, Naghmeh's parents "did everything to keep Saeed calm hoping he would treat [her] better. They were afraid if they upset him he would turn on [her] more."

In Iranian culture, the source explained, "divorce was not an option." Naghmeh's parents only wanted to keep her safe, they wanted to avoid the divorce which happened anyway.

After forcing Naghmeh and her parents to get additional mortgages, Saeed combined the $170,000 and the $110,000 loans to purchase land in Eagle, Idaho, according to the source.

When Saeed went to prison, Naghmeh was allegedly left saddled with the payments for the land and the home her parents had bought for her. Because her salary wasn't enough to cover their loan commitments and bills, she was forced to rent out their Pennfield home and move in with her parents.

The source told CP that Naghmeh admitted to getting out of Saeed's book deal in November 2015. It was unclear which publisher the deal was with. She sold the Eagle property and used some of the proceeds to get herself out of the book deal, put some money in savings for their two children and paid for some remodeling on her parents' home.

According to the source, Saeed was able to make the Pennfield property his own even after the divorce. 

Saeed Abedini, who established house churches in Iran, was imprisoned for his faith for more than three years and was released in January 2016 after suffering torture and other forms of persecution.

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