Bishop accused over billions in donations

Author: By Tales Azzoni, Associated Press

A Brazilian judge accepted charges from prosecutors alleging that Bishop Edir
Macedo and nine other people linked to the Universal Church of the Kingdom
of God committed fraud against the church itself and against its numerous
followers.

Sao Paulo state’s prosecutors office alleged in a statement that Macedo and
the others took more than $2 billion in donations from 2003 to 2008 alone,
but charged that the alleged scheme went back 10 years.

Church lawyer Arthur Lavigne told the newspaper Folha de S. Paulo that the
accused denied any wrongdoing. Church officials did not respond to attempts
to reach them by phone and e-mail.

Prosecutors said the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God receives nearly
$800 million in donations every year from faithful in 4,500 temples across
Brazil. The church claims to have nearly 8 million followers in Brazil and
many more around the world.

Prosecutors said the church tells its members it needs donations ? cash,
checks, cars and other goods ? to finance new temples and to pay for
religious programs on radio and TV.

The church allegedly used fake companies to launder the money, moving the
assets abroad and then returning them in the form of loans used by Macedo
and his accomplices to buy businesses, prosecutors said.

“There is proof that the money from the donations was used to attend to the
personal interests of those being accused” and that they took advantage that
the donations were not taxed to make investments in personal business, the
prosecutors’ statement said.

Macedo, who founded the church in 1977, owns a large television network, three
newspapers and several radio stations. He also owns a tourism agency and an
air taxi company.

In the early 1990s, the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God was
investigated for embezzlement and tax evasion, but nothing was ever proven
and the church grew stronger.

Brazil is the world’s largest Roman Catholic country, but recently the number
of evangelicals has grown significantly among its population of about 190
million people.

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