Ukraine police charge Nigerian pastor of evangelical church

Kiev, Ukraine - Ukrainian law enforcers on Tuesday formally charged the ethnic Nigerian leader of a hugely popular evangelical Christian church of complicity in bilking his congregation of millions, the Interfax news agency reported. Pastor Sunday Adelaja, senior pastor of Embassy of God in Kiev, Ukraine, was among the ringleaders in an international scheme to attract funds from Ukrainian churchgoers into questionable Nigerian businesses run by friends and relatives, the accusation read in part.

The main beneficiary of investment money funneled from Embassy of God accounts to Nigeria was the Lagos-headquartered Kings Capital investment company, a firm according to Ukrainian prosecutors without real business activity.

Ukrainian police last week arrested the head of the Kiev branch of King Capital, an Adelaja associate and Embassy of God member, on similar charges. The firm despite promises of high returns in November stopped paying dividends.

Adelaja, a former university student turned charismatic preacher, frequently suggested to churchgoers they invest their money in King's Capital, as he knew its management were "Godly men."

Adelaja has denied the prosecutor's charges and claimed the Ukrainian government is targeting him because of the Embassy of God's growing popularity, and on racial grounds.

Ukrainian police have served Adelaja with an order to remain in Ukraine until the charges are dropped.

Adelaja faces the formal charge of "financial machinations in especially large volume," a crime carrying a sentence of 5 to 12 years in prison.

Starting as a weekend prayer meeting in Adelaja's apartment in the early 1990s, the Embassy of God church has ballooned into according to media reports East Europe's largest evangelical church, with more than 25,000 active members in Kiev alone, and branch churches in fifteen more Ukrainian cities, according to the church web site.

The Embassy of God and its leadership have done nothing wrong, and any formal charges will be faced and defeated in court, Adelaja said last week.