Cape Town – Prominent New Apostolic Church (NAC) members spent tithes buying properties and assets for themselves, two whistle-blowers have alleged.
But the church had refused to release to members the findings of an investigation despite promising it would do so, they said.
In response to a Cape Times investigation, the church has admitted that a forensic investigation into its financials recommended, among others, the tightening of controls and that action be taken against individuals.
A senior official of its finance department who was implicated in the report had resigned before it could take action, and the church did not report the alleged financial mismanagement to the police, as it had to consider, “among others, the merits of a case, the likelihood of success, the cost of litigation, the likelihood of harm/damage that litigation may cause to the image of the church”, according to its advocate Mervyn Doralingo.
The alleged misuse of funds occurred prior to the amalgamation of NAC regions within southern Africa about three years ago.
Congregant Andre Oosthuizen, who previously served as a Shepherd in the Silverton congregation in Pretoria, said he had continuously pestered the church for answers following the investigation.
“After the districts joined into the new structure, we were all promised that a forensic investigation would be undertaken and the results would be made known to the entire congregation.
"The investigation was completed a few years ago, but for some reason it’s being kept secret. We have enquired into it. But they refused to give us the results,” said Oosthuizen.
Those implicated were not brought to book, Oosthuizen said, adding that he believed there may be more officials involved in the mismanagement of funds.
He added that by not acting against those implicated, the church was trying to protect individuals and hide wrongdoing.
Another congregant, who asked not to be identified for fear of victimisation, said he had viewed the church’s financial statements.
“I had requested to see the report but was not allowed to see the final report. After pushing, I was allowed to see financial statements.
"There it was clear funds were leaving the church’s accounts for no clear reason, and these were significant amounts adding up to about R8 million in irregular expenditure,” he said.
Church funds were used to source large loans to purchase properties, and some of those implicated had sold private property in order to pay back the money, he alleged.
After weeks of back and forth between the Cape Times and the NAC, it would not share the report, saying it would only do so if ordered to by a court of law.
Doralingo said a forensic investigation had been instituted in or around 2016 after the international office of the church became concerned about the financial struggles of the church in Joburg.
“The report recommended the tightening of controls and that action be taken against individuals. Although the ‘Johannesburg Church’ at the time functioned as an entity using its own bank accounts etc, the newly established entity has an interest in the affairs of the former church due to continuing contracts and other legal obligations,” said Doralingo.
While Doralingo said that the recommendations contained in the report were meant to serve as a “guide” for future conduct, it was never intended for use by outsiders.
The report was shared with the leaders and discussed in a broadcast open to all members of the church in 2016, he said.
Asked whether action had been taken against the official in the finance department, Doralingo said: “When a preliminary report fingered the official, he was confronted with the preliminary findings and allegations and was suspended from the employ of the church while the investigation was continuing.
"He resigned from the employ of the church before a charge could be served or disciplinary action could be taken against him.”
Asked about individuals implicated in the report either being asked to return funds or face litigation, Doralingo said: “While the church has put procedures in place to ensure that church funds are not applied for personal use, if it is found to be the case, these funds must be returned.
“The reference to the church ‘not being likely to litigate’ should not be quoted and/or understood out of context. If appropriate, and after consideration of, among others, the merits of a case, the likelihood of success, the cost of litigation, the likelihood of harm/damage that litigation may cause to the image of the church etc, a decision to litigate might well result.
"Where lost monies can be recovered through other less costly methods, these methods will be preferred.”
However he would not say whether this had been done.
“As much as the church has to be responsible in the manner it deals with church funds, the church must also act responsibly in disclosing information,” he said.