Church fraud exposedBy: SELMA SHIPANGA
A PROBE at the Evangelical Lutheran Church in the Republic of Namibia (ELCRN) has unearthed widespread financial abuse and fraud by several pastors in the top leadership of the church.
The probe was carried out on one of the bank accounts, called ‘Projects and Partnership Account’ for the years 2007-2010, and it cites financial irregularities, including fraud amounting to more than N$1 million.
The common thread of the irregularities is the lack of any supporting documents for money that came out of the account the head office uses to support projects for its different congregations.
At the centre of the fraud are expelled Pastor Japhet Sem and suspended Pastor Mark Beukes, Dean Paul Goagoseb who used to head the Otjiwarongo circuit, and Dean Lesley Du Toit of the Rehoboth mission.
Sem is said to have received about N$400 000 in a period of three months from the account. The money was apparently meant to support the Macedonia congregation over which Sem presided “but the money was cashed and paid directly into his private bank account by Pastor Beukes”.
Sem has dismissed the accusation, saying he knows nothing about the N$400 000. “That account in particular contained donor money that was budgeted for projects for various congregations and circuits. I went and borrowed N$280 000 for my congregation’s projects which the newspapers reported that I squandered in a 419 scam,” he said.
Sem said as a result of having borrowed from that account, he and Beukes are currently the subjects of a court case. They will appear again next year February.
“The church leadership reported Beukes and I to the Anti-Corruption Commission and we are facing the music, but we are not the only ones who are guilty of having made use of money from that account. The church leadership also used money from that account.
“Bishop Zephania Kameeta himself used a total of N$1 million from that account to pay the salaries of church workers because until now, the church is facing a financial crisis. My question is, why is the church leadership also not being summoned and investigated? Why only me and Beukes?” Sem asked.
Sem said he does not regard himself as innocent in the matter but wants the church leadership consisting of Bishop Kameeta, Deputy Bishop Paul Hatani Kisting, Finance Director Leonard de Vries and the rest of the administrative board investigated, as they are not innocent either.
“I’m a victim of this scam started by the church leadership. The only reason I went to borrow that money is because I was made to believe that it was OK to borrow for church projects. And all the money I received was done on behalf of my congregation, not in my personal capacity. I don’t have anything to hide,” he said.
Beukes, who was in charge of the account before his suspension, is said to have issued cheques, electronic funds transfers and cash amounting to N$200 000 in his name and the names of other Beukeses, with no invoices to prove what the money was spent on.
Beukes declined to comment, referring The Namibian to his attorney. Efforts to get comment from his lawyer, Llana Fouche of Fouche and Van Vuuren Legal Practitioners in Walvis Bay, proved futile as she was said to be out of town and her office could not reach her.
Meanwhile, people familiar with the investigation say that Dean Paul Goagoseb personally received substantial parts of the N$50 000 which his Otjiwarongo circuit, including Okakarara mission, failed to prove what it was spent on.
Goagoseb denied the allegations, saying that he had accounted for all the money he had received by writing reports.
“During the years 2007 and 2008 I was not a leader and therefore I was not in a position to get any money. I was elected as a Dean in 2009 and 2010. If there’s anything I have to account for, it’s from my time when I was a Dean. In 2009, my congregation received N$50 000 which was allocated for a youth camp. The youth camp took place and a report was written about it,” he stated.
The probe, however, reveals that Goagoseb also received money to help him out of “financial difficulties”.
Goagoseb said it was impossible of people to expect him to provide them with receipts of events that took place in 2009.
“If someone has to ask me in 2012 for receipts for things that happened in 2009, must I now cook the receipts or what? If they say that I cannot account what the money was spent on, then they should prove that they gave me that money in the first place. I cannot just get money like that, surely there was a need for them to give me the money,” he said.
He added that all the money he had received was on behalf of the circuit and it was spent on several projects within the circuit. “It seems to me that our church has become worse than a political party,” he said.
The report on the investigation also mentions a scholarship for a child of Pastor Dean Lesley Du Toit, who was allegedly a co-signatory to the account.
Du Toit, who is currently presiding over the Rehoboth mission, said he was never a co-signatory to the account but confirmed that his daughter, who was a secretary at the church, had borrowed N$6 000 from the account, which she paid back within a month of receiving it. However, the report states that Du Toit’s son had received a “scholarship” of N$10 000.
The ELCRN leadership has said for the past three days that it was unable to comment because Bishop Kameeta was out of the country.