- The Universal Church of the Kingdom of God, a Christian sect with a strong presence in Mozambique, could be involved in criminal activities, including money laundering through companies hosted in tax paradises around the world. The sect, founded in Brazil in 1977, is currently building a considerable financial empire in the poor country of Mozambique.
This week's edition of the Brazilian magazine 'Isto É' looks into the presumable "financial sins, committed in God's name," by the sect established by self-declared Bishop Edir Macedo. The journal documents that, in Mozambique, "it is constructing an authentic empire, both regarding the allurement of believers and regarding the acquisition of real state properties."
According to 'Isto É', since 1999, an inquiry by the Brazilian Office of the Attorney-General has looked into the relations between the sect's leaders and leaders of two dubious companies - Cableinvest Limited and Investholding Limited. Both companies are headquartered in the Caiman Islands, located in a British tax paradise in the Caribbean.
Six years later, the fiscal secrecies of the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God (UCKG) are to be handled over to Brazil's Federal Supreme Court after a request by the Attorney-General of the republic, Cláudio Fonteles. The objective is to investigate the existence of a project of intended money laundering, launched by now assassinated Paulo César Farias, the assessor of Brazil's ex-President Fernando Collor de Mello.
The great TV business
According to the Brazilian Office of the Attorney-General, there are indications that this project was used for the US$ 45 million purchase of TV Record do Rio in 1992, and of other broadcasters. The two offshore TV stations - being subsidiaries of companies created in tax paradises to escape Brazilian tax collection - had used irregular operations to send money to the Brazilian bank account of "bishops" of sect. Brazil's fiscal authorities had documents proving these transactions. The remittances and receipts total US$ 18 million.
'Isto É' claims to have been given access to parts of the documentation and investigations by Attorney-General Fonteles. The most surprising revelation in these papers was the identity of one of the owners of Cableinvest and Investholding. Directing the operations in Caiman Islands is Marcelo Crivella, a 43-yar-old economist from Rio de Janeiro and nephew of Edir Macedo, the main leader of the UCKG sect.
Mr Crivella is also a "bishop" of the church and was elected senator for the Liberal Party of Rio in 2002. According to Attorney-General's report of 2003, when he reported the case to the Federal Supreme Court, the inquiries carried out by Interpol had proven that one of the shareholders of the Cableinvest is Mr Crivella. Now, as the secrecy is broken, the banks are providing further documentation proving who the real owners of the companies are. The documents obtained by 'Isto É' included the signature of Senator Crivella, confirmed by notary public's office of São Paulo.
These documents had been collected by former leaders that had access to the accounting of the sect. They include sales and purchase contracts of radio and television companies, other property and even an aircraft - all escaping the tax and income declarations of the sect leaders. Mr Crivella earlier this year was detained by the Federal Policy of Rio De Janeiro, but still denies being the owner of the Cayman Islands companies.
The Universal Church today is present in more than 80 countries, including Mozambique, according to its leadership. But, to achieve this growth, it left a dirty track on its way: illicit enrichment, money laundering, purchase of Record through "stooges", accusations of fraud and charlatanism are among the sects sins. But nothing can compare to the new allegations.
According to the Brazilian Attorney-General's Office, there is evidence of how the church society's money laundering project was worked in practical terms. The triangle trade passes between dollar changers in Brazil, offshore companies of the Caiman Islands and investment banks in Uruguay. A small, documented part of the project, according to 'Isto É', includes 76 contracts from February to October 1992, where the two companies had borrowed US$ 6.3 million to the bishops, reverends and an exquisite group of church sympathisers.
Among others businesses, this money had been used to justify the purchase of the TV Rio. The five-year loans do not have a defined pay-back scheme.
The sect in Mozambique
In Mozambique, meanwhile, the empire of the UCKG is rapidly expanding to all town and cities of the country, its most visible arm being the radio and TV broadcaster 'Rede Miramar' and the widely and freely distributed brochure of the sect.
First, the sect was busy marketing its presence in the entrance halls of Mozambique's cinemas and sports arenas. Now, under the leadership of "Bishop" Valdemiro, it is constructing a new cathedral in the Alto-Maé township of the capital, Maputo. Further, it is transforming its headquarters in Maputo's prestigious Avenida 24 de Julho into a new "temple of faith".
The church society has several real estate projects going on in the Alto-Maé district of the Mozambican capital, but is now meeting more political resistance. While the former Mayor of Maputo, Artur Canana, approved of the cathedral in the township, his successor - Eneas Comiche - has unauthorised it.
In a recent meeting where the sect leaders tried to pressure Mayor Comiche to re-approve the construction, the UCKG "bishops" offered the Maputo official a gold watch allegedly bought in Switzerland. Most probably, however, the watch was bought at a local goldsmith in downtown Maputo. Not being successful in their bribery attempt, the sect leaders have now initiated a legal process against the city of Maputo and Mayor Comiche.
Adding to current money laundry suspicions, the latest purchase of the sect in Mozambique was the most famous meeting point of Maputo's high society, the former Restaurant Ungumi in Avenida Julius Nyerere. Since the building was bought for US$ 1.5 million last year, it has hosted the headquarters of 'Miramar Net'. Before that, the broadcaster had operated from more modest premises belonging to the ruling FRELIMO party.
No criminal investigations have been launched against the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God in Mozambique so far. The sect, which has its strongest presence in Brazil and the United States, is represented in four African countries: Angola, Cape Verde, Mozambique and South Africa.
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