Police have opened a fraud inquiry after it was found that a prosperity gospel church lost millions of investments managed by a footballer who has now been found guilty of fraud.
Kingsway International Christian Centre lost £3.9m of the £5m investments it made with former Charlton Athletic footballer Richard Rufus, in what the Charity Commission has called 'mismanagement'. The City of London police are now investigating the alleged fraud, as the Guardian reports.
Richard Rufus was found guilty in 2015 of having operated a Ponzi-style scheme between 2007 and 2011, through which he lost or spent £8m from different investors.
Rufus was a key member of KICC, a predominantly African and Caribbean church where members are encouraged to tithe regularly. The church received £5.8m in donations in 2015. KICC's pastor is Nigerian evangelist Matthew Ashimolowo, a prosperity gospel pastor with a net worth of $6-10 million, according to Forbes.
In 2009 trustees of the church agreed to give Rufus £5m in investments after he promised returns of 55 per cent per year. At the time, national interest rates were below one per cent. The church's investment included millions from churchgoers, supplemented by gift aid from the government.
A report by the Charity Commission in 2015 said that KICC did not 'exercise sufficient care' when giving Rufus the money. The trustees had believed that Rufus' 'personal guarantee makes this as safe an investment as any', but had not check Rufus' investment history, or qualifications, nor questioned the high interest rate that had been promised.
KICC said that the trustees 'acted in good faith and had no reason to suspect that the investment on behalf of the charity would go wrong'. None of the trustees who were part of the decision are acting trustees now.
It was reported in 2015 that Rufus accepted over £16m in investments from 2007-2011, in an unauthorised breach of financial regulations. He lost £5m through currency-exchange trading and used over £3m for his "own purposes".
A police spokesman said: 'Detectives from City of London police's fraud teams are investigating.'
This is the second investigation that the KICC has faced from the Charity Commission. In 2005 the church's pastor Ashimolowo had to repay £200,000 after it was revealed he had used church assets to buy a £13,000 Florida timeshare, and spent £120,000 on his own birthday celebrations, including £80,000 on a car. Ashimolowo is KICC's 'founder, visionary and senior pastor', who also travels the world preaching a prosperity gospel, sharing how God desires people to be wealthy, and teaching about the 'irrevocable laws of wealth creation'.
The church said that Ashimolowo knew about the investment with Rufus, but was not part of the investment decision itself as he is not on the board of trustees.
'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,' they said.