The City of London police has opened a criminal investigation into the disastrous Ponzi investment made by Matthew Ashimolowo’s Kingsway International Christian Centre (KICC) with Richard Rufus, a member of the church, which led to the loss of £3.9 million by KICC.
According to The Guardian newspaper of London, the criminal investigation of KICC’s Ponzi investment follows a Charity Commission report into “mismanagement” at KICC, which invested £5 million with Rufus, a former Charlton Athletic player.
The newspaper also reported that the church’s Chief Operating Officer, James McGlashan, alleged that the founder and senior pastor of the church, Ashimolowo, knew about the disastrous investment.
McGlashan made the allegation in an interview with the Guardian.
“Detectives from City of London police’s fraud teams are investigating. There have been no arrests,” a London police spokesman confirmed to The Guardian.
Rufus was found by a civil court judge in 2015 to have operated a Ponzi-style scheme between 2007 and 2011, losing or spending £8 million from several investors.
The former professional footballer was a leading member of the KICC whose founder, Ashimolowo, preaches a “health and wealth” gospel to a congregation of thousands at his “Prayer Palace” in Kent.
The largely African and Caribbean churchgoers are urged to give regular tithes and the church collected £5.8 million from them in 2015, according to the latest accounts.
In 2009 and 2010, the trustees agreed to give Rufus £5 million to invest after he promised them returns of 55 per cent a year at a time when interest rates were less than 1 per cent; as well as millions in donations from churchgoers – which were boosted by gift aid tax relief.
It had recently received £10 million from the London Development Agency, a public body that needed to demolish the church’s then home in east London to build the Olympic Park.
The regulator said they failed to check if Rufus had any investment qualifications or experience and gave little thought to the extraordinarily high rate of return Rufus was promising.
The church’s senior management team concluded his “personal guarantee makes this as safe an investment as any” and produced a report on the investment that included no checks on Rufus’s past investment performance or any references from clients.
It was the second time the Charity Commission has had to investigate the church.
In 2005, when it was known as the King’s Ministries Trust, the regulator ordered Ashimolowo to repay £200,000 after it emerged he used church assets to buy a £13,000 Florida timeshare and spent £120,000 on his birthday celebrations, including £80,000 on a car. New trustees were subsequently appointed and Ashimolowo was removed from his role as chief executive.
None of the current trustees were involved at the time of the Ponzi investment.
Meanwhile, McGlashan’s allegation that Ashimolowo is in the know about the Ponzi investment is contrary to earlier denials by the KICC Senior Pastor that he was not part of the decision to invest the money as he was not a trustee of the KICC.
“The trustees actions were totally independent and were not influenced in any way by pastor Ashimolowo,” said Dipo Oluyomi, KICC chief executive in a recent statement in Lagos.
But McGlashan rubbished this in the Guardian of London interview.
He (Ashimolowo) sometimes jets into London on Sunday morning, delivers back to back services and then flies out of the country later that day, said McGlashan.
Before the problem with the British Charity, Ashimolowo delivers sermons to his congregations at branches of the church in the UK, Ireland, Nigeria, Ghana, South Africa, Malawi and the Democratic Republic of Congo that teaches how God wants them to be rich, including lessons on the “irrevocable laws of wealth creation”.
One regular preacher at the KICC is the multi-millionaire United States TV evangelist Creflo Dollar who teaches “biblical money management” and tells worshipers that “honouring the Lord means trusting him enough to release our tight grip on our wallet, and giving generously”.
The US TV evangelist once asked followers of his own church to pitch in $300 each to buy him a new Gulfstream private jet.
In 2015, the bankruptcy registrar Clive Jones said Rufus had accepted more than £16 million from investors between 2007 and 2011 – without authorisation and in breach of financial regulations.
He had lost more than £5 million through currency-exchange trading and used more than £3 million for his “own purposes”.
The Charity Commission told the current trustees of KICC that they had “a strong legal claim” against the old trustees who oversaw the investment decision. But they have instead settled out of court with payments agreed confidentially.
KICC said the trustees “acted in good faith and had no reason to suspect that the investment on behalf of the charity would go wrong” and that “pastor Ashimolowo is not one of the trustees was not part of the decision to make the investment that went wrong and that neither the church or its trustees have been accused of or investigated by the UK authorities for wrongdoing”.
In a damning set of conclusions published in December, the Charity Commission said the trustees “did not exercise sufficient care” when they gave Rufus the church’s money.
Pastor Femi Faseru of KICC Nigeria was evasive when another newspaper tried to speak to him last night on the criminal investigation of the church’s Ponzi investment in the United Kingdom.
He sent a press statement that did not address the issue raised and insisted that it was all they wish to say.