Lawsuit alleges that Christian charity misspent millions
The creator of a multinational Christian charity, K P Yohannan, above, and his cohorts alleged used millions of dollars in donations for personal gain.
Yohannan, who founded the Gospel for Asia charity, is one of three people named in a class-action lawsuit filed in an Arkansas court last month. The racketeering and fraud lawsuit alleges that almost $94 million in charitable donations purportedly sent to India in the past eight years by the Canada-based charity can’t be properly accounted for by either the Indian or Canadian governments.
According to this Hamilton Spectator report, the other defendants are Gisela Punnose, Daniel Punnose, David Carroll and Pat Emerick. Emerick is the head of Gospel for Asia Canada.
Gospel for Asia Canada’s filings with the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) show that $93.5 million was transferred to India between 2007 and 2014, but Indian government documents show that no money from Canada was received by the charity’s Indian affiliates during the same period.
Gospel for Asia was created and is controlled by Yohannan, who was born in the southern Indian state of Kerala and is now based in Wills Point, Texas, about 30 kilometres east of Dallas. Yohannan is also listed as the founder and President of the board of Gospel for Asia Canada.
Much of Gospel for Asia’s international work is focused on Kerala and a significant part of the charity’s stated mission is to help the Dalits, members of India’s lowest caste.
In written responses to a lengthy list of questions submitted by The Spectator, Emerick strongly denied Gospel for Asia Canada is involved in any financial impropriety. Emerick stated:
This is entirely false, even absurd. For more than 30 years, this ministry – with its partners overseas – has provided humanitarian assistance and spiritual hope to millions upon millions of people
Bruce Morrison, a Nova Scotia pastor whose church has raised money for Gospel for Asia for more than 20 years, conducted a meticulous review of Indian financial documents filed by Gospel for Asia conducted with the help of an American auditor. He alleges that for some of the charitable categories cited by the organisation, less than one per cent of money donated from developed countries was used for the stated intentions.
In a detailed 21-page financial analysis of Gospel for Asia prepared in November, Morrison alleges as much as $128 million US in worldwide donations over an eight-year period went “missing” in India. Morrison claims in one of his reports:
K P Yohannan has taken hundreds of millions of dollars from Western donors and put a majority of those funds in expensive profit-generating properties in Kerala and also let tens of millions of dollars accumulate in Indian banks, while continuing to beg for more on pretences that are simply not true.
Garry Cluley, a recently-ousted board member of Gospel for Asia Canada, has also filed a complaint with the CRA. Cluley alleges he was dumped from Gospel for Asia’s board in December when he asked to see copies of documents that would show how the charity’s donations were being governed and spent.
Morrison and Cluley, along with the US lawsuit, allege Gospel for Asia, either directly or through Indian affiliates, has used its charitable donations to build an extensive for-profit corporate empire in India that includes:
• Caarmel Engineering College in Kerala.
• The 500-bed, for-profit Believers Church Medical College Hospital in Kerala.
• Six for-profit primary schools in Kerala.
• A 900-hectare rubber plantation in Kerala.
• A professional soccer team in the Myanmar National League.
In addition, the lawsuit alleges Gospel for Asia spent $45 million US to build its new state-of-the-art headquarters in Texas, pictured above, with nearly half of the money coming from donations that had originally gone to India and were then sent back to the US.
But according to this report, Yohannan is not a fan of expensive churches. He is quoted as saying:
A friend in Dallas recently pointed out a new church building that cost $74 million. While this thought was still exploding in my mind, he pointed out another $7 million church building going up less than a minute away.
These extravagant buildings are insanity from a Two-Thirds World perspective. The $74 million spent on one new building in the United States could build thousands of average-sized churches in South Asia. The same $74 million would be enough to guarantee that the Good News of Jesus Christ could be proclaimed to a whole Indian state – or even some of the smaller countries of Asia.
In its literature and on its website, Gospel for Asia pledges a guarantee to donors that:
100% of what you give toward sponsorship goes to the field.
Emerick suggested Morrison’s accusations are:
Based upon conspiracy theories and do not – by any means – reflect reality.
Morrison estimates there are about 10,000 Canadian donors to Gospel for Asia.
Some of them are on very fixed incomes and they believe they’re doing a great thing by contributing to Gospel for Asia. They’re responding to the appeals that come, assuming the gifts they give will be spent on those appeals.
If there’s an ever an institution that you should be able to trust, it should be the Christian church.
On February 8, Matthew and Jennifer Dickson of Rogers, Arkansas, were named as the lead plaintiffs in the lawsuit launched against Gospel for Asia.
They were donors to the charity who now allege they’ve been duped. The opening statement of the lawsuit reads:
Soliciting charitable donations to benefit the poorest of the poor while covertly diverting the money to a multi-million-dollar personal empire is reprehensible.
Using a Christian organization as a front to attract and exploit the goodwill and generosity of devout Christians is a particularly vile scheme. But that is exactly what K P Yohannan and the organization he controls — Gospel for Asia Inc — have been getting away with for years.
None of the lawsuit’s allegations have so far been proven in court.
Gospel for Asia and the other defendants have been given an extension to April 15 to file their responses to the lawsuit. Said Emerick:
Gospel for Asia intends to vigorously and fully defend itself against these false accusations. The defendants are not guilty of the accusations being levelled against them.
You can rest assured that in the meantime the organisation will continue serving some of the world’s most desperate people in some of its most complex environments. We hope our friends will pray for us, for these challenges are certainly also challenges and distractions to our mission.
The lawsuit alleges Gospel for Asia raised $450 million US between 2007 and 2013 in the US alone.
However, despite repeated, explicit guarantees from GFA to donors, only a fraction of the donated money supports the people and causes for which it was donated.