Daniel Olukoya, General Overseer of the Mountain of Fire and Miracles Ministries (MFM), is in the spotlight in a US court after his group, one of Nigeria’s foremost Pentecostal churches, dragged some former pastors and members to court over monetary and property disputes. The sued pastor and former church members have in turn accused the General Overseer of engaging in fraudulent activities in the US, including evasion of duties owed to US authorities.
In an action filed in the Circuit Court for Prince Georges’ County of Maryland, U.S.A., (Case No. CAL16-26532) on behalf of Mountain of Fire and Miracles Ministries International, Lagos, and Mountain of Fire and Miracles Ministries, USA, Nevada, the church is seeking declaratory judgment and damages against Pastors Lawrence Adetunji, Ronke Adetunji, and 11 former members of Mountain of Fire and Miracles Ministries, Bowie, Maryland. Also joined in the suit is Christ the Truth Ministry, the successor of MFM Bowie.
At issue are real property described as 5506 and 5503 Church Road in Bowie, Maryland, which were acquired by MFM Bowie in 2001 and 2004 respectively. Also in contention are funds for the MFM building in Bowie. MFM International (Lagos) claims that the property acquired with the contributions and offerings of the members of MFM in Bowie, without assistance of any form from Mr. Olukoya or MFM headquarters, are property of MFM headquarters by way of trust. The plaintiffs claim further that when Pastor Adetunji and most members of MFM in Bowie decided not to associate further with the denomination, Pastor Adetunji was under an obligation to hand over the properties and funds to MFM headquarters (copy of MFM Complaints attached).
In their response, the defendants allege that they decided to sever their relationship with MFM and its leadership because of the illegal and fraudulent activities of MFM International, Lagos. They allege that MFM International was in the practice of knowingly and deliberately making false claims to evade U.S. Customs duties and taxes on books exported from Nigeria to U.S.
Upon information and belief, the defendants alleged that the plaintiffs had willfully and intentionally evaded U.S. Customs Service duties and had evaded tax payments to the United States Government. They allege that the plaintiffs carried out these illegal activities for many years.
The nature of the illegal activities stems from the fact that the plaintiffs would ship prayer books (specifically, “70 Days Prayer & Fasting” and “Pray Your Way Into [current year]” to various U.S.-based MFM branches with a cover letter categorizing the books as “donations” to be distributed to local parishioners. However, once delivered to the United States, instructions were then emailed to U.S. pastors by MFM International and /or MFM USA instructing them of the price they must charge parishioners in selling these books. The pastors were then instructed to remit the earnings of their sales to MFM International.
The defendants disclosed that, although this practice had been going on for many years, on or about 2013, MFM International started shipping their books directly to U.S. Customs in Baltimore, along with the cover letter stating that the books were “donations” (page 2-3 of the Defendants’ Amended Answer and Counter Claim).
The Defendants asserted that they did not become aware of the illegal practice until 2015. They stated further that, when they became aware, having no power over MFM and its leadership “to influence or change their behavior had (sic) to sever all ties in order to curtail their (defendants’) unwitting participation in plaintiffs’ illegal actions.”
The defendants also argued that MFM International could not lay claim to the property because they contributed nothing towards the acquisition of the property, not even when the defendants requested for assistance by way of a loan to meet some of their financial obligations. They declared that no valid trust was created over their property for the benefit of the plaintiffs.
The case comes up for hearing on October 14, 2017. Some Officers of MFM International, including the General Overseer, Daniel Olukoya are expected to get into the witness box at the hearing.
In an earlier development, MFM brought a similar action before the Superior Court of Los Angeles, California, against Ade Oyeyemi, a former MFM pastor (Los Angeles County Super. Ct.N0. BC 352398). The Fourth Division of the Second Appellate District of the California State Court of Appeal ultimately decided the case in favor of Pastor Oyeyemi.