News Reports: India’s Tax Authorities Take Control of Gospel for Asia’s Cheruvally Estate in Alleged Money Laundering Case

According to news reports out of India this morning, government Income Tax Department has confiscated the Cheruvally Estate and another 2,000 acres of land  belonging to Believers’ Church in the state of Kerala. This action, according to reports, is tied to the governments ongoing investigation of a money laudering scheme involving allegedly $821-million in foreign donations. Believers’ Church is run by K.P. Yohannan who is the founder and CEO of Gospel for Asia, headquartered in Wills Point, TX.

In November 2020, the Income Tax Department raided Believers’ Church and Yohannan’s homes and due to suspicion of a money laundering operation. According to this recent report, Yohannan was supposed to return to India for questioning in December 2020 but failed to do so. According to this report, he is at the Wills Point headquarters.

The allegations are similar to those at issue in the RICO lawsuit settled in 2019 with GFA. In that case Garland and Phyliss Murphy accused the mission giant of failing to spend donations as promised and diverting money to other projects in India. The $37-million settlement was followed by a similar suit in Canada which is ongoing.

See also this report for a pretty good summary of Gospel for Asia and K.P. Yohannan’s legal troubles.


Indian Ruling Party Official: K.P. Yohannan Has No Claim to Rubber Plantation

K.P. Yohannan, source: Youtube
K.P. Yohannan, source: Youtube

Gospel for Asia founder and director K.P. Yohannan is getting opposition from the India’s Peoples Party in his bid to sell a rubber plantation that the government says he doesn’t own. Yohannan’s Believers’ Church purchased the working rubber plantation — Cheruvally Estate — from the Harrisons Malayalam Ltd company in 2005. According to the Times of India, a high ranking official in the party of Prime Minister Modi claims the church should not be repaid for the property since it was acquired illegally:

The government does not need permission from K P Yohannan to set up airport in the Cheruvally estate, BJP national executive member V Muraleedharan said.
Muraleedharan said that when the government plans to buy the 2,200 acre Cheruvally estate from the encroachers and set up the airport, it would set a wrong precedence for encroachers of government land in other areas. The opposition was against this move that would set the ground for large-scale corruption, he said.

Yohannan has said the Believers’ Church bought the land with a loan. While this may be true, he was able to do so because donors from around the world gave millions to GFA. His operations in India have consistently promoted work with children and evangelism as the focus of American donantions. However, the bulk of money from outside of India has gone to finance the creation of for-profit businesses in India (e.g., medical centers, schools). Furthermore, at least $20 million in donations was first sent to India and then secretly returned to the United States in order to fund GFA’s compound in Texas.
GFA and Yohannan were evicted from membership in the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability in October 2015. GFA was singled out as violating government regulations by the Office of Personnel Management in January 2016 and sanctioned to the greatest extent allowed by law.

#GivingTuesday: Gospel for Asia's Rubber Plantation in Jeopardy

It appears Gospel for Asia has experienced another setback. The local government wants to build an airport on part of the rubber plantation — Cheruvally Estate — owned by GFA.

“There are many environmental issues at Laha. Based on a study , Cheruvalli estate was found suitable. I had talked to Archbishop KP Yohannan who owns the Cheruvalli estate two months ago and he had expressed his willingness to give land for the airport. I wrote to Vijayan and he acted quickly ,” he said, adding that NRKs were ready to invest if the airport follows a PPP model. Around Rs 3,000 crore will be required to build the airport.
The estate, which was being held by Gospel for Asia, was part of 5,200 acres that was taken over by the special officer along with the land held by Travancore Rubber and Tea Company Ltd and Riya Resorts and Properties Pvt Ltd. Cheruvalli estate is one among the estates that were sold by Harrisons Malayalam Ltd in 2005. The special officer – who was appointed for resuming government land from HML – had inspected the estate on January 15, 2015 and found that the sale deed of the Cheruvalli estate, measuring 2,263 acres, did not contain any survey number included in original document 16001923 held by HML.
Gospel for Asia had approached the high court claiming that the special office had no powers to issue the notice. After their plea was turned down by the single bench that asked the group to first make their claims before the special officer, the group then appealed against it in the division bench.

Last month, KSEB had written to the special officer seeking permission to erect a 110kV line through the property for im proving the power facility to Sabarimala which subsequently was placed before the high court.The court, in its order, gave permission to KSEB to erect the power line through the estate, without providing any compensation to Gospel for Asia.

GFA paid millions of donor money not given for the purchase of a rubber plantation to buy Cheruvally Estate. Now, that investment is being taken by the government with the claim being that GFA was not a legal buyer in the first place.
In October 2015, GFA was evicted from membership in the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability due to multiple violations of financial standards. GFA founder and director K.P. Yohannan has spent much of his time in India since then due to concerns about investigations by various federal agencies.
Today is #GivingTuesday which provides a focus on giving to non-profits. With Christmas and end of the year tax giving, charities bring in a substantial portion of their funds during December.
#GivingTuesday – My advice is to find local charities making a difference and give there.
#GivingTuesday – Advice for making larger donations.

The Ownership of Gospel for Asia's Rubber Plantation Under Investigation by Indian Government

According to The Times of India, Gospel for Asia in India is being investigated by the Indian government in relation to GFA’s claim to own Cheruvally Estate, a working rubber plantation. GFA claims to have a clear deed but the government claims that the plantation should not have been sold to GFA by the former owner Harrisons Malayalam.

The special office to deal with Harrisons Malayalam Ltd cases has already issued orders to take over 38,051 acres currently held by HML and other private players who bought land from the company.
This includes 29,185 acres currently held by HML, 1,665 acres of Boyce estate, 2,700 acres of Ambanad estate, 2,263 acres of Cheruvally estate held by Gospel for Asia, 206 acres held by Ria Resorts and Properties and 450 acres of Goodampara estate held by MMJ Plantations. (emphasis added)

If GFA was a party to a fraudulent deed, the managing trustee of Gospel for Asia and Believers’ Church might face jail time. The managing trustee is K.P. Yohannan.
You can read more about GFA’s purchase of Cheruvally Estate on the GFA website.

Did Gospel for Asia/Believers' Church Buy Cheruvally Estate With a Bank Loan or Donor Funds?

Recently, a reader in India sent a clip of a 2012 interview of K.P. Yohannan on Surya TV and Indian station. In it, Yohannan responds to questions about why he did not respond to charges that Believers’ Church acquired Cheruvally Estate (a rubber plantation) illegally. He also claims that the funds to purchase the rubber plantation in 2005 came from donors who designated their donations to the church on the condition that the funds would be used to purchase income producing property.
The clip is mostly in Malayalam. I was able to secure translations by four Malayalam speakers and found them to be nearly the same. Notice that K.P. Yohannan uses some English in his replies. A composite translation is below the video with the time in parentheses after the English words he says.

Anil Nambiar: The Believers Church is the owner of Cheruvally estate.
K.P. Yohannan: Correct (.04)
AN: There is a claim that Cheruvally estate is taken from revenue land.
KP (interrupts): Simply saying…
AN: …this is an allegation from A.M. Varghese
KP: If there is any estate in Kerala that is not owned by the government for the people or does not have any questions about a clear title (.22), that is Cheruvally estate. I take the blame because I did not publically challenge such allegations.
AN: Why didn’t you come out and publicly challenge it?
KP: Stupidity, It was our foolishness (.33). Because there was some advice from people who I respect, “Your highness, don’t reply to these things. Do things straightforwardly, and you are doing that, why fear? Let them say whatever they want.” But like how got beaten up in darkness then woke up, and this is how it is now. I admit, this is a mistake we made (.53) that we didn’t respond. Because we have nothing to fear as we have not done anything wrong.
Estate…when I travel from Thiruvalla to Trivandrum along the way there are so many land, institutions belonging to other churches. How much more property owned by Amrita (a Hindu sect led by a lady guru called “Amma: meaning mother) has how much property? Why did they buy these?
As for Believers’ Church and Cheruvally estate, donors specifically (1:18) have instructed us to establish an income producing entity (1:23), in the future for you to continue your work. Let me ask you, we spend almost 40 crore rupees to take care of 60,000 children – where does this money come from? Can we campaign to raise money all the time? We have to produce our income (1:43), that is what this is for, for that only. Funds for this are literally given to us by the donors for such purposes only. See (1:52) people will ask, “your highness, your sadness (1:58), your sorrow (2:00), what is that?”

I have looked through the donor reports for Gospel for Asia going back as far as 2004 and I can’t find anything specifically donated to allow Believers’ Church to purchase income producing property. In fact, in the 2013 audited financial statement, GFA doesn’t even list Believers’ Church as a related party and recipient of cash from GFA. I suppose it is possible Yohannan referred to donations from within India which are not a part of the U.S. audit. There are many questions raised by this interview.
Those questions aside, Yohannan told one story to Anil Nambiar about the purchase of the Cheruvally Estate  and another story on his GFA website. Read what he said there about the acquisition of the plantation:

In addition to generous giving on the part of its members, theese (sic) churches also generate revenue from literature publishing and other activities. When leaders were presented with the opportunity to purchase an operating rubber plantation for only “pennies on the dollar,” they saw a way to open a new income stream for ministry. But there were stipulations on how the purchase would have to be made.

The leadership made the decision with the understanding that financing would not come from church or mission funds,” explained Dr. K.P. Yohannan, who is also president of Gospel for Asia, whose native missionaries serve the Asian church. “Rather, it would have to be taken care of from the profits of the estate.”

With that understanding, and the knowledge that the property was being “dumped” at a very low price (about US $19 million), the leaders voted to go forward.

We made the purchase with a 100 percent bank loan at a very favorable rate,” Dr. Yohannan explained. “And now the loan is being repaid with the profits from the rubber plantation. When it is paid for in six or seven years, all further profits will go directly to fund missions and ministries.”

I gave my full support to the purchase,” Dr. Yohannan added, “because I know that the future of the church in India depends on its ability to take care of itself.

So which is it? Was the plantation purchased with designated donor funds or by means of “a 100 percent bank loan?”
It wouldn’t be far fetched for Believers’ Church to divert funds; an Indian court declared that the church did just that in 2014. But why tell American donors that the plantation was fully purchased with a bank loan? The two different narratives do not inspire confidence or trust.
In this interview, Yohannan discloses that GFA spends around $7 million (40 crore rupees in 2012) on 60,000 Bridge of Hope children. That is about $117/child a year or just shy of $10/month. BoH sponsors in the U.S. send $35/child. Furthermore, if the plantation and other income producing businesses are funding these programs then what is happening to the U.S. donations?