Indian tax officials have started a search of the headquarters of self-appointed Archbishop K.P. Yohannan, who runs the Believers’ Church based in the southern state of Kerala.
Officials of the federal Income Tax Department conduct such searches when they suspect an individual or business is hoarding illegal money. It is seen as a method to curb unaccounted wealth.
The search continued for a second day on Nov. 6 in the independent church’s headquarters in Thiruvalla town in Pathanamthitta district.”The officials who entered the church headquarters on Nov. 5 morning are continuing with their searches, and no one has come out yet,” a local journalist who did not want to be identified told UCA News at noon on Nov. 6.
Kerala native Yohannan is the self-declared metropolitan archbishop of the church he founded in 1993. It is now part of the Kerala Council of Churches and has branches in Kerala and several other states.
Yohannan, dubbed Asia’s richest evangelizer, reportedly has assets worth US$175 million as the head of the Believers’ Church and Gospel for Asia, a trust.
Local reports said the raid follows allegations that the church collected billions of rupees of foreign donations and violated the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act by spending the money on purposes other than what donors intended.
The law allows foreign donations mainly for projects that help the betterment of poor people.
The Believers’ Church owns land assets, vehicles, schools, hospitals and medical schools besides several churches in Kerala and other parts of India.
Local media quoting unconfirmed reports said officials seized some 5.4 million rupees ($77,000) in cash hidden in a car parked in the church’s premises.
Officials have sealed all the exit and entry points to the campus. Officials also reportedly seized the mobile phones of the church’s officials, blocking their communications with outsiders.
Leaders of other churches in India were tightlipped over the raid. However, a Christian lay leader in Kerala, Shaiju Antony, welcomed the search.
“It should have been done much earlier. The Believers’ Church and its self-declared Archbishop K.P. Yohannan amassed huge wealth through foreign donations and purchased land and estates of thousands of acres in several parts of the country,” Antony told UCA News on Nov. 6.
“One rubber estate it purchased in Kottayam [district in Kerala] alone is close to 2,500 acres. How can an individual make so much money in less than two decades? Yohannan and his accomplices in the name of Christian mission established a huge business empire.”
Modern church leaders “are after money and have lost the sense of religion and God, and justice and love, that Jesus taught us. Most churches have lost track,” he added.
Antony said the raid and such governmental actions are needed to help church leaders to “gradually open their eyes and take up their original mission.”
Officials from the Believers’ Church could not be contacted as their phones were switched off, reportedly by officials who took them over.