Gospel for Asia founder talks fraud lawsuit, ring kissing

Gospel for Asia founder K.P. Yohannan (L) speaks with Pastor Francis Chan.
Gospel for Asia founder K.P. Yohannan (L) speaks with Pastor Francis Chan. | Screenshot: GFA

Gospel for Asia founder K.P. Yohannan is speaking out this week after reaching a $37 million settlement over allegations that his nonprofit mishandled millions in donations.

“I thank God the lawsuit against GFA is over, and after three long years I finally feel free to talk about it,” Yohannan said in a released statement. “Honestly speaking, I never thought our ministry and family would face accusations such as those that were made in the lawsuit.”

He defended the integrity of the organization — which focuses on helping impoverished children and communities in South Asia, including India — and said they “did not look for personal gain” in GFA’s 40 years of existence.

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Calling the past few years “one of the most difficult and loneliest times in my own personal life,” Yohannan said he questioned God and was “confused” as to why this was happening.

Recounting the events leading up to the lawsuit, he said GFA undergoes an independent audit every year. But in 2015, a “financial standards association we were part of” informed the organization in a letter that it needed to “better conform to the requirements set by that association.”

As the nonprofit set out to comply, the letter was leaked. Yohannan believes it was “put on social media to damage us.” Staff and supporters began to leave and a lawsuit was filed by former donors.

They accused GFA, Yohannan and his associates of racketeering, fraud and financial mismanagement. More specifically, the plaintiffs alleged that millions in donations earmarked for charitable purposes within its missions fields were used to run for-profit businesses and for building personal residences and a headquarters in Texas.

“For example, in 2013 (the most recent year for which audited financial data is available), GFA worldwide collected around $115,000,000 in donations (more than $90 million from the U.S.), but spent only $14,644,642 on services and relief under GFA’s mission to support the poor and needy of India—directly contrary to donor designations and GFA’s promises,” the lawsuit stated. More of that money was spent on administrative needs, salaries and headquarters construction, the plaintiffs alleged.

David Carroll, the chief operating officer of GFA who was also named as a defendant in the lawsuit, explained to CBS11 News in 2015 that the organization did nothing wrong when it moved nearly $20 million from a GFA India account to the U.S. office in Texas for its new headquarters. He noted that the money came from a general fund and said he believes "the campus one day would probably return many times on what they invested here."

GFA was expelled from the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability for violating its core standards and from the National Religious Broadcasters.

The nonprofit reached a $37 million settlement earlier this year while maintaining innocence. Some 200,000 GFA donors are eligible to receive a portion of the settlement.

Yohannan said they were advised to settle in order to save the organization because if the lawsuit continued “nothing would be left of the ministry’s resources or reputation.”

The settlement partly states, “The parties also mutually stipulate that all donations designated for use in the field were ultimately sent to the field.” 

Warren Throckmorton, a former supporter of GFA, questioned how GFA defined "field." When he sent an inquiry to GFA, Yohannan emailed, "In Canada, GFA India has a bank account owned and controlled by them. When all field donations come into our Canadian office, they are entered according to donor and designation preference by our staff at GFA Canada, and then deposited into the same bank account in Canada controlled by GFA-India.  So once the funds are deposited into that account, they are considered received on the mission field and available to the field immediately."

Throckmorton, professor of psychology at Grove City College, commented, "That money deposited in a Canadian bank was considered to be 'on the field' was both surprising and alarming."

In a video posted with Yohannan’s statement, California pastor Francis Chan reiterated his support for and defense of GFA.

The Crazy Love author said while the temptation was there for him to distance himself from Yohannan like many others did when the allegations were made, he decided to do his own research.

“I needed to be sure and I needed to be able to speak with integrity to other people,” Chan said.

“I’ve been to your house, driven in that old VW bug of yours … I just go ‘how could anyone accuse someone like this about fraud and racketeering,’” said Chan, who had also looked at Yohannan’s and his son’s tax returns.

Despite legal troubles, GFA reported that it helped hundreds of thousands of children and women in 2018 with health care, literacy classes, water and other necessities.

Responding to questions about his denomination — Believers Eastern Church — and practices such as followers kissing Yohannan’s ring and his authoritative position, Yohannan told Chan that they are “hard-core evangelical” and not Catholic, and that he has no greater power than the 30 other bishops there.

"We do not have a practice of people kissing my ring," he added. "But when people come to me, or our bishops, they simply bow their head and say, 'bishop, give me a blessing.' ... We just touch their forehead and say 'the Lord bless you.'"

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