KP Yohannan, the founder and the Archbishop of Believers Eastern Church, is a controversial religious figure in Kerala. Accused of diverting funds collected for charity for religious proselytisation, he has been under the scanner of the Income Tax Department. Yohannan is believed to be the richest evangelist in Asia with assets over $175 million. Besides heading the Believers Eastern Church, he also runs a Texas-based trust by the name of Gospel for Asia.
Yohannan had founded the Believers Christian Church in 2000 at Thiruvalla in Pathanamthitta district of Kerala. He declared himself as a ‘Bishop’ and had appointed Bishops from North India and the Church of South India for his coronation as a ‘Bishop’. Later, he declared himself as an ‘Archbishop’ and hired 6 junior Bishops under him.
Charity funds used for buying real estate
In June 2015, the Kerala government had issued orders to recover land illegally owned by the Believers Eastern Church. Reportedly, funds procured by Gospel for Asia for the purpose of improving the lives of orphan children were used to buy real estate. The Believers Eastern Church, headed by Yohannan, bought one of the estates named Cheruvally Estate from the charity funds. Under the provisions of the Land Conservancy Act, the government had directed that the property be recovered from the Church and other groups.
It had purchased 2,263 acres of rubber plantations from Harrisons Malayalam Limited for ₹85 crores in 2005. Although Yohannan had claimed that the revenue from the real estate was to make the Church self-sufficient for running orphanages, it was found that the evangelist spent more than ₹300 crores on the property. A government probe found that the documents presented by Harrisons Malayalam Limited for the sale of the rubber estate were forged. As such, the Kerala government issued orders for its recovery. An earlier probe in 2008 had revealed that Yohannan had received ₹1044 crores from the United States.
IT Department raided Believers Eastern Church in November last year
In a major crackdown in November 2020, the Income Tax Department had raided the premises of Believers Eastern Church in Thiruvalla in central Kerala. The I-T Department had unearthed a major financial scam and recovered a whopping ₹8 crores in cash. The Union Ministry of Home Affairs had earlier cancelled the FCRA licence of Believers Eastern Church for carrying out evangelic activities using charity funds. This was despite the fact that the Church had claimed received the donations through proper channels.
Believers Eastern Church reportedly received over ₹7,000 crores in the past 8 years, through other trusts. The Church had also used its funds in real estate dealings and the construction of institutions. In fact, the Believers Church reportedly continued to get funds from various trusts even after their license was cancelled. The Believers Eastern Church also funded several political parties. The IT department has been looking into the transactions of over 10 years.
Yohannan established a huge business empire in the name of Christian Mission: Christian leader
For his larger-than-life and cult status, Yohannan had drawn the ire of the members of the Christian community. One lay Christian leader named Shaiju Antony said, “The Believers’ Church and its self-declared Archbishop KP Yohannan amassed huge wealth through foreign donations and purchased land and estates of thousands of acres in several parts of the country.”
He added, “One rubber estate it purchased in Kottayam [district in Kerala] alone is close to 2,500 acres. How can an individual make so much money in less than two decades? Yohannan and his accomplices in the name of a Christian mission established a huge business empire…(Modern Church leaders) are after money and have lost the sense of religion and God, and justice and love, that Jesus taught us. Most churches have lost track.”
Yohannan uses his ‘clout’ to evade legal and public scrutiny
However, everytime Yohannan had been in trouble, he was quick to shrewdly use his political and religious influence to get away from public accountability. In January this year, about 25 Christian leaders came forward to vouch for the ‘credibility’ and ‘integrity’ of his Texas-based Trust named Gospel for Asia. They lauded the evangelist for serving the Lord ‘faithfully’ in 18 South Asian countries.
In his defence, Sermon Index founder Greg Gordon claimed, “I have seen firsthand the work in Asia, the training of ministry leaders, churches, and Bridge of Hope centers. Frugality, simplicity, and godly wisdom are obvious in all the work. Everything is done for an eternal purpose with the longevity of a church in mind where millions are experiencing Christ’s love who have never heard the name of Jesus. Dr. KP Yohannan has emulated this example of sacrifice and commitment to Jesus.”