‘Prophet’ Shepherd Bushiri,leader of the Enlightened Christian Gathering Church, and his wife, Mary Bushiri, face not only fraud and money-laundering charges, but the prospect of their assets getting seized.
The controversial pastor and wife were arrested at a hotel in Rustenburg on Friday and appeared before the Specialised Commercial Crimes Court today. The couple were formally charged and had their application for bail postponed to Wednesday.
However, it appears that this is just the tip of the iceberg for the pair, with the state eyeing their assets.
Jet-setting their way into Court
According to City Press, the Asset Forfeiture Unit (AFU), which is a branch of the National Prosecuting Authority, has joined the legal battle against the couple. The AFU has filed a preservation order, seeking to seize assets, pending the finalisation of the couple’s criminal case.
Sources close to the developments claim that the AFU has already filed an application for permission to seize the Bushiris’ homes, cars and private jet.
The couple are the owners of a fleet of luxury cars, including a R3 million Mercedes G63, a Maserati, a Rolls-Royce and other luxury vehicles.
The preservation order is expected to be granted next week and will see the couple unable to access their possessions.
Although this might seem premature, considering the pair will only be formally charged today, there is method to the madness.
According to a source, the process is crucial in order to avoid Bushiri selling assets not only to fund legal bills, but to hide them from the state.
According to News24, City Press has obtained an affidavit from an investigator in the case, showing that the AFU have already identified properties, vehicles and bank accounts, which they have asked the High Court to preserve.
This affidavit, allegedly used to obtain warrants for the arrest of the couple, states that they are accused of committing fraud, money laundering and contravening the Prevention of Organised Crime Act.
With criminal activity dating all the way back to 2015, they also stand accused of contravening exchange control regulations when they used US Dollars ( in cash) to pay for Bushiri’s R15.3 million Gulfstream jet.
According to the affidavit, Mary Bushiri bought the jet from National Airways Corporation for $1 250 000 in November 2015. The jet is used to fly the couple between South Africa and their country of origin, Malawi.
According to City Press, Mary Bushiri had traveled to the Joburg offices of the aviation company with a bag filled with cash.
Two receipts were issued on the same day, one to “Major Prophet Shepherd Bushiri” for $1 147 200, and another, addressed in the same way, for R1 444 340 for the remainder of the payment.
Passing the buck
When the SA Reserve Bank had caught wind of the transaction, they had approached the couple’s lawyers, requesting the details of the transaction.
In response, they had received an affidavit from Shepherd, explaining that he had secured a $1.25 million loan to buy the jet, from Joint Aviation Resources. Bushiri maintained that his church had repaid the funds to the company, using donations.
The pastor had told the Reserve Bank that the aviation company would be able to provide evidence to back up his claims.
However, when his claims were investigated, no such payments could be found on the prophets bank statements.
The aviation company has also denied any loan, responding in sworn affidavits submitted to the Hawks, saying:
“JAR, according to their knowledge, never received the payments as indicated on the receipts. Most importantly, JAR states that it was not authorised or permitted to do business as a loan agent or to issue business loans,”
According to the affidavit, undisclosed amounts of foreign currency were found at Bushiri’s offices in Midrand, when police had raided the premises in May 2018.
‘Major 1’, as his followers know him, has been making headlines for questionable transactions for a while now, previously having advertised tables at a gala dinner for as much as R25 000. Other claims include him charging congregants for private prayer sessions.
Despite the list of allegations against the pastor increasing on what feels like a daily basis, his supporters stand firmly by him. Congregants had flocked to the Pretoria Commercial Crimes Court so show their loyalty to the couple.
Ahead of Shepherd’s court appearance today, scores of followers had rallied behind him during a service yesterday.
Apparently unfazed by the arrest of their leader, thousands had gathered in Pretoria to pray for him.
Terrance Baloyi, the pastor’s lawyer, has yet to comment.