UK Charity Commission investigating donations to Soul Survivor ministry after founder resigns

Mike Pilavachi speaks at Soul Survivor youth conference in 2017. | YouTube/Soul Survivor

Amid an ongoing Church of England investigation into prominent youth ministry leader Mike Pilavachi, the Charity Commission for England and Wales has launched an investigation into large donations made to a gap-year program he led. 

Pilavachi, who founded the Soul Survivor ministry and led it for over two decades, stepped down from his leadership role in July amid a denominational investigation into allegations claiming he engaged in "inappropriate intimate relationships" and behaviors with young people. 

The Charity Commission, a watchdog that regulates registered charities in the U.K., will examine large donations made to the former Pilavachi's gap-year program, Soul61, formerly known as Soul Time, an entity that seeks to “identify and train future Christian leaders," The Telegraph reports. 

The newspaper reports that the charity received various donations, including nearly $900,000 from a Malaysian business tycoon, leaving much of it to be used at the discretion of Pilavachi rather than the normal mechanisms of oversight. 

The Church of England investigation, in conjunction with the Diocese of St. Albans Safeguarding Team and the National Safeguarding Team, was launched in the spring after The Telegraph reported allegations spanning several years that Pilavachi engaged in inappropriate conduct with young people participating in Soul61. 

Pilavachi was accused of coercing some participants into receiving full-body oil massages on his bed and engaging in wrestling matches. 

The 65-year-old charismatic former ministry leader launched the Soul Survivor charity in 1993. The organization was widely known for its summer festivals that were attended by tens of thousands of teenagers. Those festivals stopped in 2019 as the charity now focuses on events for all ages from its church in Watford.

The ministry leader had previously been recognized by the Archbishop of Canterbury for "his outstanding contribution to evangelism and discipleship amongst young people in the United Kingdom."

Pilvachi was suspended in May by the charity's board of trustees. In his resignation statement in July, Pilvachi said his continued presence in the ministry would hinder the Church's ability to heal. 

"I seek forgiveness from any whom I have hurt during the course of my ministry," Pilvachi wrote. "I have, on advice, made no comment on the allegations and will not make any further public comment, as I do not believe it would be good for anyone if I took part in a trial by media or social media."

The Charity Commission's investigation was spurred by revelations from The Telegraph, highlighting details about the Watford-based gap-year program’s high-profile donors. The newspaper contends that the new information sheds light on the Soul Survivor's global influence. Soul Survivor has offshoot ministries in countries like Malaysia, South Africa, Australia, Canada, the United States and New Zealand.

Donations to Soul61 have reportedly reached a sum of nearly £750,000 ($962,910) during the years 2016 and 2019.

In three years, two different donations of roughly £100,000 ($128,388) and another of roughly £500,000 ($641,940) were made by YTL Utilities UK.

The Telegraph reports that YTL Utilities Holdings is registered in the Cayman Islands. Its grandparent company, YTL Corporation Berhad, is the Malaysian infrastructure conglomerate led by Tan Sri (Sir) Francis Yeoh and consists of six listed entities.

Soul61 accounts suggest that YTL Utilities has made three donations to Soul61, the largest donations the program has ever received since its founding in 2011. 

During the three-year period, accounts display the donations were to be used “at the discretion of the charity trustees" and that they could also serve as a gift “to be used at the discretion of Mike Pilavachi.” 

The Charity Commission announced an ongoing compliance case into Soul Survivor Watford after The Telegraph reports were released. The vast amount of money donated by YTL is also currently being examined by the watchdog.

“Charities have very clear legal obligations in terms of how they expend charitable funds, and the role of trustees in making these decisions,” Richard Scorer, a solicitor at Slater and Gordon who represents some complainants of abuse in Soul Survivor, told The Telegraph. 

“Good governance and compliance with rules is particularly important given the tax advantages enjoyed by charities which mean in effect a public subsidy from all of us. The suggestion that very substantial donations may have been controlled by Pilavachi personally as opposed to through the normal mechanisms of trustee oversight is troubling and it is very important that the Charity Commission scrutinize these matters without delay.”

Nicole Alcindor is a reporter for The Christian Post. 

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