Kenyan Orthdox Church Cleric In $6.8m Embezzlement Claim

The top leadership of the Orthodox Church is embroiled in a bitter dispute that has seen a senior cleric accuse the archbishop in Kenya of illegally taking possession of about Sh600 million ($6.8 million) through a privately registered company.

The Very Reverend Father Silouanos Samuel Mwangi Gichanga claims that Archbishop Makarios Tillyrides has appropriated more than half a billion shillings from the Kenyan church.

In a suit filed at the High Court in Nairobi The Rev Gichanga, described as the church’s finance chief, claims Archbishop Tillyrides could defraud the faithful of even more cash if he is not stopped.

He has also accused Pope Theodoros II Nikolas, Athinodoros Papaevripiades and Kongai David Kiplagat of being the Archbishop’s accomplices in the transfer scheme in which church money is being moved to a newly created company.

“The church accounts hold huge sums of money which belong to congregants (and) which, if appropriated, may (be) put to waste and the said defendants may not be able to refund,” he says in his pleadings to the court. He claims about Sh600 million has already been transferred to Orthodox Towers Management Limited, a company registered in the quartet’s name in April.

The Rev Gichanga wants the court to stop what he says is the mass transfer of church cash.

In the suit filed on July 2, The Rev Gichanga claims that the defendants had locked him out of the management of the Orthodox Archbishopric of Kenya Limited, which has custody of all church assets.

But the defendants have denied the accusation of misappropriating funds, arguing that the new company was formed in order to facilitate the church to invest the money. Mr Kiplagat, on behalf of the other defendants in an affidavit filed on July 16, said that the orders sought by The Rev Gichanga stopping transfer of assets and cash had been overtaken by time.

He says that the new company was formed with the sole purpose of managing the church’s assets. Mr Kiplagat claimed that a limited company was incorporated to act as an investment vehicle to manage church assets and carry out joint ventures with an independent financier. He argued that it was necessary to incorporate another company since the church is exempt from some taxes to be paid on its investment.

The four also say that the new company is fully owned by the church. Mr Kiplagat told the court that the defendants require more time to get documents from Egypt and Cyprus for a more comprehensive response.

Mr Kiplagat asked the court to dismiss the case, arguing that it seeks to paralyse church activities. But the petitioner insists that he has the right to participate in the management of the Orthodox Archbishopric of Kenya Limited, arguing that he is the director in charge of finance.

However, the defendants dismiss this claim, arguing that in 2011 the memorandum of articles of association of the church was amended to vest all powers only on the Pope or his nominee.

The archbishop and other defendants allegedly incorporated Orthodox Towers Management Company Limited without the authorisation of the board of Orthodox Archbishopric of Kenya Limited or even without seeking approval from church members.

A teleconference meeting of the Orthodox Archbishopric of Kenya Limited held on May 30, and attended by the four defendants, authorised the transfer of all money into the accounts of the new company.

Mr Theodoros is listed in the minutes as the Pope and Patriarch of Alexandria and all of Africa, Mr Tillyrides the Archbishop and Mr Kiplagat and Mr Papaevripiades are listed as members. The record shows that the four agreed that the taxes due to the Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA) amounting to Sh27 million be paid from the accounts of the newly registered company.

The defendants in July transferred Sh270 million held in the account of Orthodox Archbishopric of Kenya Limited with Standard Investment Bank to the new company’s account at Prime Bank.

An email sent on July 14 by a Prime Bank manager to a Father Athos with a subject line ‘funds transfer from Orthodox Archbishopric of Kenya to Orthodox Towers Management Co account’ confirms that Sh593 million was transferred to the new company’s three bank accounts.

The petitioner is asking the High Court to put on hold the transactions, arguing that as a finance director, he is being exposed to liability and at the same time exposing the church’s assets to possible losses.

One of the orders sought by the petitioner is “a temporary injunction restraining the defendants, their agents, servants or those claiming through them from withdrawing or moving funds from the bank accounts of the Orthodox Archbishopric of Kenya at Prime Bank Chiromo branch and Co-operative Bank Kawangware branch pending hearing and determination of this application”.

Justice Francis Gikonyo on July 3 certified the case urgent. When the case came up for hearing on July 15, a lawyer appearing for the defendants asked the court for 30 days to file a response, arguing that since some of defendants resided outside the country she needed the time to contact them.

Justice Gikonyo directed the defendants to file an affidavit to explain the status of the two companies that are subject of the suit. The petitioner on July 21 amended his application and introduced a fresh plea requesting to be allowed to sue on his behalf and that of Orthodox Archbishopric of Kenya.

In his fresh application, The Rev Gichanga claimed that his co-directors listed as defendants had colluded to siphon cash from the church and were unlikely to allow him to file a case.
The procedure requires a majority of the directors’ approval in filing of a case by a limited company.

“Save for the plaintiff, the other directors of the 6th defendant (Orthodox Archbishopric of Kenya) are acting in concert, without making any reference to the plaintiff and driving towards their objective of divesting the 6th defendant of all its assets, which move is opposed by the plaintiff and the same defendants cannot sanction the suit herein,” he says.

But the defendants have objected to the fresh application, arguing that it is not supported by any law. [NationMedia]