An ambitious investigation of religious fraud cases shows that religious leaders are rarely prosecuted, and churches are increasingly participants in money laundering.
The Cross-Borders Data Project at Columbia University has partnered with journalists across Latin America to investigate religious fraud. Journalists examined more than 60 investigations and court cases where churches or religious leaders were suspected of committing crimes.
The Latin American Center for Investigative Reporting summarized their findings:
“When internationally-famous religious leaders or their churches – some of them well established in the Americas – are accused of financial crimes such as money laundering or fraud, they can face years of scrutiny but are seldom found guilty or innocent.”
Another media partner in the investigation, the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP), has reported on accusations of money laundering by churches in the United States, Mexico, Columbia and Brazil.
With a quote from Argentine prosecutor Emilio Guerberoff, OCCRP shows that privacy is complicating the investigations of church financial crimes. “By receiving anonymous donations through tithes – whose origin may not be explained – churches become the perfect money laundering machine.”
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