Kingsway International Christian Centre, KICC, founded by Nigerian evangelist, Matthew Ashimolowo, is being investigated by the City of London police for an alleged fraud involving a former Premier League footballer who lost £3.9m.
Following a Charity Commission report, it was discovered that KICC which is one of Britain’s richest evangelical churches invested £5m with the former Charlton Athletic player Richard Rufus. In 2015, Rufus was found by a civil court judge to have operated a Ponzi-style scheme between 2007 and 2011, losing or spending £8m from several investors.
Rufus was a leading member of the KICC in Kent. In 2009 and 2010 the Church trustees agreed to give Rufus £5m to invest after he promised them returns of 55% a year at a time when interest rates were less than 1%. As well as millions in donations from churchgoers – which were boosted by gift aid tax relief – it had recently received £10m from the London Development Agency, a public body that needed to demolish the church’s then home in east London to build the Olympic Park.
In December, the Charity Commission published a damning set of conclusions saying the trustees “did not exercise sufficient care” when they gave Rufus the church’s money.
The regulator said they failed to check if Rufus had any investment qualifications or experience and gave little thought to the extraordinarily high rate of return Rufus was promising.
The church’s senior management team concluded his “personal guarantee makes this as safe an investment as any” and produced a report on the investment that included no checks on Rufus’s past investment performance or any references from clients.
On the grounds of mismanagement, detectives from City of London police’s fraud teams confirmed to the guardian that they are investigating the case, although no arrests have been made.
In 2015, the bankruptcy registrar Clive Jones said Rufus had accepted more than £16m from investors between 2007 and 2011 – without authorisation and in breach of financial regulations. He had lost more than £5m through currency-exchange trading and used more than £3m for his “own purposes”.
This will make it the second time the Charity Commission has had to investigate the church. In 2005, when it was known as the King’s Ministries Trust, the regulator ordered Ashimolowo to repay £200,000 after it emerged he used church assets to buy a £13,000 Florida timeshare and spent £120,000 on his birthday celebrations, including £80,000 on a car. New trustees were appointed and Ashimolowo was removed from his role as chief executive.
According to reports, the church’s chief operating officer James McGlashan claims Ashimolowo knew about the investment with Rufus, but Pastor Ashimolowo denies being any part of the decision to invest the money as he was not a trustee of the KICC.
Further debunking the allegations in a statement, KICC’s chief executive, Dipo Oluyomi said; “[The trustees’] actions were totally independent and were not influenced in any way by pastor Ashimolowo. Oluyomi adds that none of the current trustees were involved at the time of the investment.
The Charity Commission told the current trustees of KICC that they had “a strong legal claim” against the trustees who oversaw the investment decision. But they have instead settled out of court with payments agreed confidentially.
KICC said the trustees “acted in good faith and had no reason to suspect that the investment on behalf of the charity would go wrong” and that “pastor Ashimolowo is not one of the trustees and 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”.