UK body investigates South Africans' involvement in missing church money

The British Charity Commission's two-year investigation into the 6 million South African rands (around $442,380) missing from the coffers of a local church and its charity has unveiled the possible involvement of a group of South Africans.

(REUTERS / Leonhard Foeger)British Pound Sterling banknotes are seen at the Money Service Austria company's headquarters in Vienna, Austria, November 16, 2017.

On Nov. 28, a meeting was held between the commission and members of the Rhema Church London where the dismissal of Pastor Martin Phelps was announced. However, his wife Sandy confirmed to Times Live in a text message that they would contest the decision.

In addition, it was revealed that church accountant Jonathan Martins had been dismissed as well, while church trustees Clemont Harry, Lyn Fulford, and Mike Myers were suspended in connection with the missing money. The commission then designated Keith Mills as interim manager.

The alleged misappropriation of funds had been spotted by auditors which then led to the investigation. The commission said the auditors had not been able to find a reason for the 3.7 million rands (around $272,801) incurred on church credit cards and 1.4 million rands (approximately $103,222) on petty cash.

"This included £86,055 [R1.5-million) relating to overseas development workshops," the commission added in its statement. "This raised regulatory concerns that charitable funds may have been misapplied."

In addition, the commission said the charity would need to sell one of its properties to pay for the 6.8 million rands (around $501,364) in liabilities it owed to the U.K. government.

Phelps, Fulford, and Myers had completed their training at Rhema Church South Africa before the London church was established in 1991. However, the Johannesburg church's CEO, Giet Khosa, denied any association with the church in the U.K.

In a separate situation in the United States, Broadmoor Baptist Church's former executive pastor, Riley Brown, has been accused of stealing $332,000 from its coffers. The transactions came to light after the Madison church conducted an internal policy review in September, AZ Central reported.

Brown is no longer connected with Broadmoor as an employee. In a statement, the church said it will not file criminal charges but will bring the incident to the Mississippi Department of Revenue and the Internal Revenue Service.