religious fraud

Kenya: Over 25 bank accounts of controversial preacher frozen

By Victor Abuso

Posted on May 11, 2023 12:06

The Kenyan government has frozen more than 25 bank accounts and a mobile money MPesa account linked to Ezekiel Odero, one of the country’s high-profile pastors linked to cult leader Paul Mackenzie.

Mackenzie is accused of inciting his followers to starve to death in order to ‘meet Jesus’. This led to more than 130 deaths in the coastal region of Kilifi, as the number of bodies retrieved from mass graves continues to rise.

A request by investigators to block Odero and his associates from withdrawing or transferring money from his accounts for 30 days has been granted, according to court documents. The state accuses the preacher of receiving huge sums of funds through fraud and money laundering.

“For the purpose of investigation, it is necessary and desirable to issue the orders,” say court documents.

Through an affidavit, government investigators claim Odero and his New Life Prayer Centre and Church have been receiving huge sums of money from people they believe have been radicalised, who then sell their property to make the preacher wealthy. 

Despite the blockage of his accounts on Tuesday, Odero told followers: “Keep sending your offerings and sacrificing to the locked accounts. If you can, give more. We want to show them where the money comes from.”

Government prosecutors are also investigating allegations of murder, radicalisation, child cruelty, crimes against humanity, and abduction. The wealthy pastor, who denies the claims,  was released from police cells a week ago by a Mombasa court on KSh1.5m ($10,000) bail as investigations proceed. He is yet to be charged in court.

It is believed that the trade on human body organs has been well-coordinated, involving several players

On Wednesday, a court rejected preacher Mackenzie’s request for release on bond. Instead his detention was renewed for further 30 days, as official documents police are probing a possible trade in human organs.

“It is believed that the trade on human body organs has been well-coordinated, involving several players,” say court documents.

However, Security Minister Kithure Kindiki could not confirm the investigators’ claims. “As of now [we] treat it as rumours. We are waiting [for] people who have facts on the ground,” he said on Tuesday.

Legal battle lines drawn

Odero’s lawyers, led by Danstan Omari, have moved to the High Court in Mombasa to challenge the government’s move to freeze his accounts. 

Omari further accuses the government of acting in bad faith and persecuting his client. He wants the court to re-open the preacher’s bank accounts.

“Pastor has to pay fees to needy students. Lawyers have not been paid. The state is persecuting our client,” Omari said.

He claimed that his client is fighting ‘powerful individuals’ who are not happy with his teachings and helping the needy.

“We want the government to come clean. This is a religious war. The state wants to bring down Pastor Ezekiel,” he said.

The security minister has, however, denied the accusations. 

“We have no war [with] religion or church, but anybody who thinks they can hide behind a church, mosque or synagogue will face the law,” says Kindiki.

The ruling on whether to re-open the closed bank accounts will be determined on Monday.

Fear and uncertainty among pastors

Ben Wamigathe, a pastor from The Last Minute Christian Church in Nairobi, tells The Africa Report that freezing Pastor Ezekiel’s bank accounts is creating anxiety and worry among other wealthy preachers who cannot explain their source of income.

“This action is welcome. Wealthy religious leaders must be responsible and answerable on how they made their money,” he says.

We should allow investigations into our wealth. Rogue church leaders and groups must end

Wamigathe wants authorities to audit all religious leaders to establish their source of wealth, a move he says will clean the Church.

We should allow investigations into our wealth. Rogue church leaders and groups must end,” he said.

President William Ruto has appointed a 14-member task force that will review regulations governing religious organisations in the country and recommend further action in the next six months.

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