The imminent breakup of their marriage may be the least of the problems popular mega-church pastor, Chris Oyakhilome, and his wife, Anita, are facing at the moment as the United Kingdom agency is investigating the UK branch of their church, Christ Embassy, over controversial payments.
The United Kingdom Charity Commission has launched a probe into the transfer of at least N941 million (£3.6 million) by the church to overseas entities between 2008 and 2012.
In a statement on Wednesday, the Charity Commission said it has 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.”
According to the Charity Commission, which is the regulator of charities in England and Wales, statutory inquiries are only opened to investigate “the most serious” regulatory breaches.
The commission said the purpose of the inquiry is to “determine whether there has been any mismanagement or misconduct on behalf of the charity trustees; to establish whether charitable funds have been properly applied and take appropriate remedial action if necessary.”
The investigation was initiated in July 2013, but after interviewing members of the board of trustees and perusing the records and books of the church for a year, the commission was still not convinced that the church has been prudent in managing its finances.
Subsequently, the UK tax authority, HM Revenue and Customs, has withheld N711.4 million (£ 2.7 million) due to the church in donation between 2008 and 2012 until the conclusion is resolved.
On August 11, the commission effectively side-lined the church’s board of trustees and appointed an interim manager to take over the management of the church.
In what it described as a “temporary and protective measure,” the commission appointed Rod Weston of the international audit and accounting firm, Mazars, to take over the running of the church.
Until investigation is concluded, Mr. Weston would “take over the management of the charity, including its staff, assets, interests, and relations with third parties,” the commission said. He is also expected to discharge the functions of the church’s trustees and take steps necessary to secure and take control of the assets of the church.
The commission however added that the activities of the church would not be suspended by the appointment as the Interim Manager is expected to work with the pastors of the church to ensure its religious and charity activities continue as before.
Although the Charity Commission said it does not provide details of ongoing cases so as not to jeopardize the investigations, PREMIUM TIMES assessment of the case however revealed that the church may have made curious payment worth at least N941 million ((£3.6 million) to individuals and companies closely connected with it.
A study of the church’s financial statements from 2009 to 2012 posted on the Charity Commission’s websites, show that approximately N403 million (£1,572,047) was paid to Love World Limited from the transmission of the church’s broadcast.
Curiously, the sole director of Love World Limited and sole shareholder is one Pastor Obiora Chiemeka who is also listed as a trustee of the church. Mr. Chiemeka was appointed a trustee in 2009, the year the church began to make the payment to his company.
The church also paid an estimated N538.5 million (£2.1 million) as grants to mostly Nigerian partner organisations between 2008 and 2012. On a closer look, PREMIUM TIMES discovered that some of the charges the payments were said to cover were arbitrary, suggesting they might have been used for other purposes other than what they were listed for.
For instance, between 2010 and 2012 a total of N320.4 million (£1.24 million) was paid to Love World Television Ministry, LTM. These payments appear to be a duplication of the payment for transmission of television broadcast paid to Love World Limited. Though the church’s dedicated television station is called Love World Television, it is not clear how Love World Television Ministry differs from Love World Limited. Love World Television Ministry is not listed on the church’s website among the ministries Christ Embassy runs.
Also, in 2009, N9.6 million (£37,785) was paid to the church’s healing ministry known as Healing School. In 2010, N20.5 million (£97,850) was paid to the same school. However, the amount paid to the ministry dropped drastically in 2011 to N346, 072 (£1,350). Then the payment to the ministry shot up astronomically to N25.6 million (£100,000) in 2012.
When PREMIUM TIMES called Christ Embassy’s international office for comments, an official who answered the phone said those who could speak on the issue were not in the office.
The Interim Manager has also not responded to PREMIUM TIMES enquiries.
Like Ashimolowo like Oyakhilome
The investigation into Christ Embassy’s finances is the second time the Charity Commission will be carrying out statutory inquiry into the UK branch of a Nigerian Church.
Between 2002 and 2005, the commission appointed KPMG to act as interim managers to another Nigerian church in the UK, Kingsway International Christian Centre, KICC, founded by Matthew Ashimolowo.
A report released in October 2005 revealed serious misconduct and mismanagement of the church’s finances.
The investigation discovered that Mr Ashimolowo approved payments and benefits for himself and his wife, Yemisi, totalling £384,000. He used the church’s Visa card to make personal purchases including a timeshare apartment in Florida for £13,000. The report also revealed that his wife bought a Bentley with a custom plate number worth £80,000.
Ashimolowo was also paid over half a million pounds to personal companies operating from the church property. The report revealed that some of his companies had unclear business relationship with the church.
The commission ordered him to repay £200,000.
Mr. Oyakhilome is locked in a divorce battle with his estranged wife, Anita, who has filed an action at a UK court to end their 20-year-old marriage.
Mrs. Oyakhilome accuses her husband of “adultery” and “unreasonable behaviour”, charges Mr. Chris has denied.
At a recent church meeting, Pastor Chris, as he is widely referred to by Christ Embassy members, warned church members against analysing the squabble between him and Anita as the church is not a political party.
He described his wife as a “bitter and angry” woman who is being influenced by bad friends who are out to seek his downfall. He accused his wife of seeking to overpower the authorities of the elders she met when she joined the Christian ministry.
As the divorce battle rages, Mrs. Oyakhilome’s profile has been pulled down from the church’s website.