Founded in 1977 in Rio de Janeiro, the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God is now a true phenomenon. With a presence in over 100 countries, this evangelical church owns a political party, Brazil’s second most important TV station, several radios, and one of our most popular news websites. In Brazil alone, there are 7,000 Universal temples. The Economist once described it as a “results-based” church, because its strategy consists of gathering the flock by promising divine intervention in exchange for money.
According to a former bishop, the institution funded a portion of its European operations via an illegal scheme to use illegal money abroad. The information was revealed by reporter Marina Dias, from the newspaper Folha de S.Paulo. According to her story, Alfredo Paulo Filho, 49, claims to have been responsible for the Portuguese branch of the church between 2002 and 2009, and to have also served as the main aide for Bishop Edir Macedo, the Church’s founder and leader.
By Paulo Filho’s accounts, Universal sent money to Europe using an illegal route through Africa. The money was raised in Angola, taken in cars to South Africa, and then moved to his own house in Portugal via private jets. Once in Europe, the money was converted into Euros and sent to different chapters throughout the continent.
Alfredo Paulo Filho was a high-ranking bishop at Universal until 2013, when he was caught cheating on his wife with prostitutes. After that episode, he was reassigned to bureaucratic jobs holding little importance compared to his previous position. Paulo Filho says he has no documents to corroborate his statements, aside from his own testimony.
This is only the latest in a long line of accusations against the Universal Church. In 1992, Edir Macedo, its founder, was arrested for 11 days on accusations of charlatanism and embezzlement, although the charges were eventually dropped. In 2009, Macedo was charged, along with nine other people also connected to the Church, on several counts of money laundering. Other charges were pressed two years later, also accusing Macedo of laundering money given by his flock. The Bishop has still not yet been convicted.
Macedo and his Church have been accused of money laundering, fiscal crimes, engaging in fraudulent processes, religious discrimination, and abuse of power – an impressive list for a religious leader.
In 2005, a Brazilian judge censored one of Macedo’s books about religions with African origins, due to its “content filled with prejudice.” Once again, though, the Bishop was the ultimate winner, as a higher court considered such an action to be a violation of Macedo’s right to freedom of speech.