Universal Church of the Kingdom of God accused of money laundering

The founder of the Brazilian Church Universal Kingdom of God, “bishop” Edir Macedo, and another 9 high members of the church are being charged for fraud against the church’s followers.

Prosecutors in Sao Paulo claim that Macedo and other close allies channelled billions of dollars in donations for the church’s followers to build an empire that includes TVs and radio stations, newspapers and even an air taxi company.

The Universal Church of the Kingdom of God is a Brazil-based popular evangelic church with temples spread on over 172 countries. It owns huge temples in cities like New York, London, Paris and Tokyo whose followers are mainly impoverished immigrants.

Its polemic riruals include mass exorcisms where followers are "freed" of the devil’s incorporation. The spiritual leaders fo the UCKG also promise to "rehabilitate" homosexuals and bring handicapped people "back to normality".  The church is also accused of openly persecuting afro-Brazilain religions.

The charge of fraud was brought up after a two–year investigation by public prosecutors in São Paulo that scanned bank transactions, shares and ownership of several companies linked to the church.

According to the Brazilian Council for Financial Activities Control (Coaf), some 4 billion reais (2 billion dollars) in transactions are considered suspect. Churches in Brazil do not have to pay taxes over donations but have to declare them.

The annual income from donations nears $800 million. The money comes from nearly 8 million followers of 4,500 temples across Brazil.

According to prosecutors the problem is not the origin of the money, but the destination: Macedo and his fellows used it to build a commercial empire. 

The church is also suspected if using fake front companies to launder the money. Such companies would move the assets abroad and then loan money to Macedo and other members of the church. They would then buy companies with the "clean" money. 

The church’s lawyers deny any wrongdoing.