Auditors appointed by the United Kingdom’s Charity Commission to review the accounts of the UK branch of the popular Christ Embassy, have raised eyebrows over suspicious payments worth N2.14 billion (£4.28 million) made to companies and organisation closely related to the church in 2013.
This came as Anita, the former wife of the founder of the mega-church, Chris Oyakhilome, dispelled rumours of a reconciliation with the televangelist.
UK authorities have previously raised concerns over controversial expenditures made by the church.
On 11 August 2014, the Charity Commission, which is the regulator of charities in England and Wales, side-lined the church’s board of trustees and appointed an interim manager, Rod Weston of the international audit and accounting firm, Mazars, to take over the management of the church.
The decision to suspend the church’s board of trustees follows the discovery of controversial payments worth N1.8 billion (£3.6 million) to overseas entities between 2008 and 2012.
At the time, the Charity Commission, issued a statement that it had opened a statutory inquiry to investigate Christ Embassy over “a number of serious concerns relating to the use of charitable funds, in particular large connected party payments and the potential misapplication of grant funding”.
The commission said it was not convinced that the church had been prudent in managing its finances.
Subsequently, the UK tax authority, HM Revenue and Customs, withheld N711.4 million (£2.7 million) due to the church in donation between 2008 and 2012 until the conclusion is resolved.
According to Jacob Cavenagh and Skeet, the independent auditors, the church made a total income of £14.1 million in 2013 but had an expenditure of £15.9 million. Part of the expenditure was made to companies and organisations with close relation to the church.
The auditors particularly flagged the N1.33 billion (£2,679,980) paid to Loveworld Limited for transmission of the church’s broadcast. Interestingly, a trustee of the church, Obioma Chiemeka, is the director and sole shareholder of Loveworld Limited. Mr Chiemeke, a pastor, however resigned as a trustee on 15 October, 2015.
Also, purchases worth N22.46 million (£44,925) were made from Ventaja Ltd for decorating and the construction of a stage. A pastor of the church, Tony Obi, is the sole shareholder of the Ventaja and his wife Georgine Obi, an employee of Christ Embassy, is a director of the company. Mr Obi, however, resigned as a trustee of the church on 6 November 2015.
The auditors were also not convinced about the grant of N500.48 million (£1,000,973) given to Healing School, Canada, a trustee of the UK branch of the Church. Ray Okocha, a reverend, is also a trustee of Healing School Canada.
Healing School is the branch of the church in charge of faith healings and miracles sessions. It regularly hosts events in Johannesburg South Africa, and Toronto, Canada.
The auditors said they could not obtain “complete and accurate” information on the transactions because the church could not provide explanations and information they requested during the audit.
“The audit evidence available to us are limited because we were unable to obtain sufficient evidence to enable us to conclude whether material amount of expenditure made by the charity were charitable expenditure,” the auditors stated.
“The audit evidence available to us are also limited because we were unable to obtain complete and accurate information on related parties. As a result of this we were unable to determine whether further disclosure of related parties and related party transaction should be made in financial statement.
“The audit evidence were also limited because a number of explanations and information requested during our audit could not be provided,” it said.
When reached on their UK telephone number for comment, an employee of the Church, who refused to say her name, said she could not speak or provide clarifications about the financial statement.
“I don’t have the information you’re looking for,” she said.
When asked for a phone number or email address of someone with the authority to speak for the church, she asked this reporter to call in June for the contact or to go to the nearest branch of the church in Nigeria for comments.
I’ve not reconciled with Pastor Chris.
Meanwhile, the former wife of the founder of the church has denied “rumours” that she had reconciled with her former husband whom she divorced in February, 2016.
She said she was no longer a part of the church. According to the company’s financial statement, Anita, who now uses her maiden name, Ebhodaghe, resigned as a trustee of the UK branch of the church on 2 June 2015.
“It has been brought to my attention that there are persistent rumours and misinformation about my marital status being circulated and I would like to address the certain reconciliation rumours with this statement,” she said.
“Further to the formal notification of the dissolution of marriage made by my Solicitors earlier this year, please note that this has not changed; and I am no longer a part of Christ Embassy aka Believer’s Loveworld or any such organisation in any capacity.
“I am reiterating this to ensure that no one is misled by the false rumors or unfounded statements that show up and are spread from time to time on the Internet.
“Any additional statement concerning me will be issued by my Solicitors, who are my legal representatives so please do not be deceived.”