Many self-styled philanthropists have taught the world how charity could be used as means for furthering their clandestine business operations. But K P Yohanan, the self appointed chief of the Belivers Church, who was in the news a couple of days ago for misappropriating charity funds and facing legal action in Canada and the US, has found himself in a soup. Yohannan last week visited Prime Minister Naredra Modi and donated Rs 1 crore towards the Clean Ganga Project, a move claimed to enter the good books of the government after report of charity funds going missing first surfaced. Earlier this week, a national daily carried on the front page a news report revealing how Gospel for Asia, headed by KP Yohannan, siphoned off charity money close to $94 million. He has used the faith of millions of people in humanity and in Christianity as a means to build an empire for himself circumventing all the laws of the country. The investigation Naradanews undertook has revealed that Yohannan purchased thousands of acres of land and diverted funds he got from various European countries, Canada and USA to his build his family empire, all in thy name of God.
We started our investigation after many law suits were filed against K P Yohannan’s charitable organisation Gospel for Asia (GFA) for misusing the funds in USA and Canada. After many allegations were raised against the organisation, The Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability in the US severed ties with KP Yohannan’s organization last October for violating five of the ECFA’s seven core standards.
Naradanews investigation has confirmed that KP Yohannan’s Gospel for Asia has large swathes of land across various cities and towns of India. These large acres of land in India are owned by the Believers Church, which is essentially a family run institution of KP Yohannan. When Yohannan came to the ‘God Market’ what he set up first was Gospel for Asia with the declared aim of ‘ sharing the love of Christ through national missionaries’. Their website further states GFA’s aim as :“Through our Compassion Services teams, we help victims of natural disasters, reaching out to those affected by catastrophes such as floods, cyclones and tsunamis. We also serve in leprosy colonies, offer medical clinics in poor areas, and help widows and abandoned children in crisis situations by providing for tangible needs like food, clothing and shelter. We are meeting vital needs for people in dire circumstances”. But after having tasted success in this business Yohannnan might have thought that to garner all the benefits it was better to start his own church. Thus he formed the ‘Believers Church’ and took the responsibility of sharing ‘the love of Christ’ without depending of national missionaries. Then to take their humanitarian missions to new heights, Yohannan started an NGO called Bridge of Hope to better “the lives of impoverished children, their families and communities. We work among all children regardless of caste, creed, religion, or community.” The official website elaborates how they serve the poor children : “we achieve our goals primarily through child sponsorship, which freely provides underprivileged children with their immediate and basic needs. Sponsorship gives poor children the necessary tools and opportunities for success by providing benefits and supporting programs for each child.”
“Today, Bridge of Hope has over 575 centers catering to the needs of over 74,000 underprivileged children in India, Nepal, Myanmar and Sri Lanka by providing them free education, a nutritious diet, school uniforms, school bags and books. With over 4,000 qualified staff to manage these centers, the Bridge of Hope has given these children a new ray of hope for a brighter future”
The art of deceit
Naradanews investigation has proved that this is the bridge Yohannan used cleverly to re route the donations meant for poor children. The Bride of Hope stipulates $300 per year to sponsor a child. But our investigation has revealed that the organisation is spending around Rs 300 per child for a month. We have talked to several people associated with Bridge of Hope to ascertain this and they on condition of anonymity have revealed to us that the ‘Bridge of Hope’ does not provide shelter or provide schooling to these children. They give a child one banana, two biscuits and a small tetra pack of juice in the afternoon, that too five days a week.
This in arithmetic terms means that the organisation is getting $300 (approximately Rs 20,000) and spending Rs 3,600 a year for a child. This means that from every child, Yohannan and company is siphoning off Rs.16,400. Now it is self explanatory how the Believers Church formed in early 90s amassed wealth of millions of dollars by diverting funds from the money people gave to help a needy child. Belivers Church used people’s belief and willingness to help others for their ulterior motives.
We also found out that people who are employees of BOH were forced to write letters on behalf of children to donors, thanking them and pleading them to help in future too. Our source in Reserve Bank of India has revealed that KP Yohannan’s charity firms are sitting on a cashpile of Rs 1500 Cr.
The Bridge of Hope claims to have rehabilitated 74,000 children in India, but our contacts who worked for KP Yohannan say that the number is less than 10,000.
This substantiates the allegation that KP Yohannan has rerouted donations to profit from it. They have properties across the country. Some of them are: 2400 acres of rubber estate in Cheruvally, in Kerala, 36 acres in Gurgaon near Delhi, 240 acres cardamom estate in Munnar, Kerala, more than 1000 acres in Tiruvalla and Changanassery, 300 acres land just above Shillong lake, 42 acres in Panvel, Mumbai, 38 acres in Sriperumbudur tech city Chennai, 40 acres in Bangalore, 60 acres in Kolkata and 14 acres in Lucknow. In fact they have land bank in every metro and tier-two city.
Money sent, but where did it go?
According to GFA’s filings with the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA), the charitable organisation collected donations to the tune of $93.5 million and transferred the amount to India during the period of 2007-14, but no such records exist with the Indian government showing that the money from Canada came to the charity’s Indian affiliates during the same period. But no Indian agencies have initiated any enquiry on this yet, presumably because of the power Yohannan yields with different political parties.
Accusations have been made by people like Warren Throckmorton, who writes for a faith based website, and Bruce Morrison, pastor of the Christian Fellowship Church of New Glasgow in the Canadian province of Nova Scotia who raised funds for GFA for the past 20 years, that funds collected as donations have either not been spent on the said cause or been misused. They have also claimed that the funds collected are not reflected in the work of KP Yohannan’s organisations . Morrison has gone on to accuse that close to $128 million in global donations received by GFA during 2007-14 had gone “missing”. One of the most significant aspects about the GFA’s stated missions is to help improve the living condition of Dalits.
Allegations by Morrison infer that KP Yohannan is building an extensive for-profit corporate empire in India that includes a private hospital, private schools, a college, a rubber plantations, and even a professional soccer team based in Burma.
GFA has obviously denied any involvement in financial impropriety.
The Medical college in Tiruvalla was established after spending Rs 600 cr. The city already has 3 medical college, and is inhabited by families of rich NRIs. There are allegations that the medical college was built for his son in law, who is a doctor.
After receiving many complaints against KP Yohannan and his charities, the government of Kerala denied mutation of land by Yohannan and his organisations in the state. Naradanews spoke to Rajya Sabha Deputy Chairman PJ Kurien who was present when KP Yohannan met prime minister Narendra Modi and donated Rs 1 crore to Clean Ganga River Project. PJ Kurien was apologetic and admitted he made a mistake which would never be repeated in the future. He stated that he did not check the credentials of the individual and recently read reports about the siphoning of donation funds. He has ensured that there will be an inquiry into the matter and the culprits will be brought to book.
There are skeptics who view Yohannan’s meeting with Prime Minister as his efforts to rope in BJP, and the central government as preemptive measure to safeguard his empire build on deceit and fraud.
With inputs from Shyju Marathumpilly