I-T Department Raids On Kerala's Believers Church: Here's What You Should Know About Its Parent 'Gospel For Asia' and Founder K P Yohannan
The church and Yohannan, in particular, have received Rs 6,000 crore from abroad for charity under the Foreign Contributions (Regulation) Act (FCRA).
The money, though, has been misused to buy properties, including real estates, pointing to a huge financial scam and violation of the FCRA.
For the second time this year, Believers Church — also called Believers Eastern Church — is in the news within a span of five months.
Also in the limelight is its founder K P Yohannan, who had been managing Gospel for Asia through which the Church was launched, and had successfully evaded detention under the US Racketeers, Influenced and Corrupt Organisation Act (RICO), 1970.
First, the church was in the news in June when the Kerala government attempted to take over its Cheruvally Rubber Estate it owns near Erumeli in Kottayam district for a greenfield airport benefitting Sabarimala Ayyappa devotees.
There is a dispute over the ownership of the estate the Believers Church bought in 2005. Successive State governments in Kerala have claimed it as the State’s.
Nevertheless, the Left Democratic Front (LDF) government in Kerala said it would deposit the money due for the estate in a local court where a suit is on over the dispute.
A controversy broke out over the taking up of the estate, but it ended after the Believers Church, which claims to have 2.4 million followers across 14 countries, said it would not part with the land.
The second time the Believers Church hogged limelight was last week when the Income Tax Department launched search operations across its 66 premises in Kerala, Tamil Nadu, West Bengal, Karnataka, Chandigarh, Punjab and Telangana.
Media reports said at least Rs 15 crore has been seized from various offices of the church, including Rs 3.45 crore from Delhi.
Crores seized from car kept in a shed at a hospital
One of the surprising seizures of Rs 7 crore was made from a car that was kept at a shed in Believers Church Medical College Hospital in Thiruvalla. The car reportedly belonged to a Church follower, Abe.
On Facebook, a video by Marunadan TV revealed a chat between Abe and a priest who worked for the church, Daniel Abraham.
Abe is heard crying in the audio and asking why the church had let him down by keeping so much cash in his car.
The car was registered in Abe's name, but the church authorities told him that they have sold it to another person and the registration certificate had been changed.
However, Abe now feels trapped with the seizure of the amount. He can be heard telling Abraham that had he been told of this, he could have found out some solution.
The Believers Church runs places of worship, several schools and colleges across the country, besides a medical college and a hospital in Kerala and almost all of them have been searched.
I-T Department officials said that during the search, "evidence of systematic inflation of expenses in consumables, construction, real estate development and payment of salary etc was found".
The searches shed light on a number of real estate transactions involving unaccounted cash payments.
Money received for charity used to buy properties
The church and Yohannan, in particular, have received Rs 6,000 crore from abroad for charity under the Foreign Contributions (Regulation) Act (FCRA), but the money has been misused to buy properties, including real estates, pointing out to a huge financial scam and violation of the FCRA.
Unfortunately, most of the details with regard to the Believers Church have been either downplayed or not highlighted by the Malayalam mainstream media.
Importantly, the role of Yohannan has come under scrutiny and his critics wonder why there is no reference to his role at all.
For example, no popular Malayalam dailies such as Malayalam Manorama or Chandrika, Deepika or Kaumudi carried the news of I-T Department searches.
Mathrubhumi carried the news briefly in one of its inside pages.
Surprisingly, Deshabhimani, the paper run by the Communist Party of India-Marxist, made no reference to it, while Janmabhoomi, a Bharatiya Janata Party organ, carried the news on the front page, but without reference to Yohannan.
Yohannan alleged to have committed irregularities
The very name of Yohannan, also known as Moran Mor Athanasius Yohan, leads to some uncharitable remarks against him by his critics. He is alleged to have committed various irregularities in the name of Christianity, particularly in countries such as Canada and the US.
According to Professor Warren Throckmorton, who has written a lot exposing Yohannan, one of the pastors of the Church at Nova Scotia in Canada, Bruce Morrison, had revealed how Canadian donors had contributed to Yohannan and Gospel for Asia thinking the donations would go for charity in India, but was diverted elsewhere.
The donations were routed to construct Gospel for Asia — World headquarters at Wills Point in Texas, US.
Initially, the $19.8 million funding was claimed to have been received from an anonymous donor leading to legal proceedings.
How Canadian donations were diverted to the US
A US federal court heard the case, filed under RICO, from two plaintiffs. During the hearing, new light was shed on the donation of $19.8 million — it was actually from Canada!
It later turned out that Gospel For Asia had breached Canadian Criminal Code on various counts and broke various Canadian regulations.
The federal judge’s view was that from wherever the funds came, it was used fraudulently.
Gospel for Asia offered to settle the issue by agreeing to set aside $37 million in a Settlement Fund to provide relief for donors as well as cover court costs and attorneys’ fees.
Probably, it helped Yohannan escape arrest under RICO, but he had escaped from the US much before the proceedings began.
Morrison said he had also found $108 million from Gospel for Asia, Canada, being reported to the Canadian authorities but not to the Indian authorities.
When he questioned this, Yohannan responded that Gospel for Asia - India had a bank account in Canada and thus there was no need to report to Indian authorities as it was an “on field” deposit.
Gospel For Asia ousted from financial accountability body
Gospel for Asia activities resulted in it being evicted from the membership of the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability (ECFA) in 2015. Surprisingly, Gospel for Asia was a charter member and the eviction was a rare move.
ECFA released a series of documents of Gospel for Asia leading to its eviction from the council, including documents which showed how its board meetings were held, or how a senior official was snubbed at a board meeting when he raised concerns about accounts.
Yohannan and Gospel for Asia are also facing class action suits in Canada, filed in February this year, from its donors, who are seeking the return of their donations “misdirected to the US”, damages for unlawful actions besides punitive damages.
According to those who have been following the case, Yohannan and Gospel for Asia-Canada are trying to wriggle out of the case by filing for bankruptcy with all funds from the account being diverted elsewhere.
The influence of Believers Church founder
Yohannan had spent years in the US to study Christianity and got a doctorate for his studies. He runs shelter homes in many countries, but his critics suspect they could have been used for conversion activities.
One reason, critics say, why Malayalam media and politicians have gone easy on Yohannan is the influence he wields, including by funding politicians.
Critics wonder why Yohannan or the Believers Church or Gospel for Asia had never been questioned by Income Tax Authorities or the Finance Ministry for the huge funds received in India.
No questions were raised or no enquiry was held when the Believers Church bought the rubber estate for over Rs 2,000 crore.
Again, it did not face any action in India for its alleged irregularities in the US or Canada.
Probably, the Canadian class suit action has swung Indian authorities into action.
And his critics are happy that the I-T raids last week could have undone all that he had done to keep the authorities at arms length till now.
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