17 December 2019 02:32
Media playback is unsupported on your device Media caption Conned by My Church: Young worshippers left in debt An evangelical church praised for helping ex-gang members has been accused of financially exploiting young people from its congregation. One member of charity SPAC Nation said she was persuaded to commit benefit fraud by a trustee, while another said she had a £5,000 loan taken out in her name without her knowledge. A former senior insider told the BBC that the church "has to be shut down". SPAC Nation denies the church is financially exploiting young people. Image caption The church's leader, Pastor Tobi Adegboyega, ignored BBC Panorama's request for an interview Kurtis, 23, was one of the church's trusted inner circle until his departure in January this year.
He appears in a BBC Panorama investigation into SPAC Nation, which is accused of leaving young people with debts of thousands of pounds. "Certain leaders shouldn't be around youth, they shouldn't be around anywhere where people are vulnerable," he said. The church's leader Pastor Tobi Adegboyega "has to be held accountable", Kurtis added. Image caption Kurtis was one of the church's inner circle until his departure in January Gracy was 21 when she joined SPAC in 2017. She told Panorama she was encouraged to apply for Universal Credit after her Pastor Ebo Dougan - who is also a trustee of the charity - noticed she had stopped giving money to the church.
"Even sometimes when we know things are wrong, in that moment I'm just thinking like 'OK, my father figure would not tell me to do something bad'," she said. Gracy was told to pay £900 of the sum into two accounts. She kept the rest, but was later investigated by the Department for Work and Pensions, who fined her £600 and ordered her to repay the £1,200. "I can't afford it obviously," she said. "I feel heartbroken because I thought this was supposed to be a family." Image caption Gracy said she was encouraged to apply for Universal Credit Lovis was 18 when a loan was taken out in her name and without her knowledge, she said. She was diagnosed with kidney cancer in November 2017. The illness left her unable to continue working as an assistant sous chef and she began looking for a job with less demanding hours. She was invited to an interview at a firm called Zuriel Recruitment. The agency was run by Tobi Adegboyega's second in command Samuel Akokhia, who has a conviction for attempted robbery. At the interview Lovis provided Zuriel Recruitment with personal details including a photocopy of her passport, her home address, her mobile number and bank account details. At the end of the process, her interviewer - a pastor at SPAC Nation - encouraged her to attend a service that week. "It was a bit weird," she said. "But at the end of the day it's church - so I didn't really think much of it." 'For the greater good' Lovis started going to SPAC Nation services and several months later moved into a safe house - known as a "TRAP house" - run by Pastor Samuel Akokhia. In March Lovis discovered a £5,000 four-year loan had been taken out in her name without her knowledge. The money never reached her, instead being transferred to a company called E. R. Management Group. That company is run and owned by Emmanuel Akokhia, Samuel's brother. BBC Panorama has seen paperwork confirming the money trail. It is not known what happened to the money after it arrived in E. R. Management Group's account. Lovis confronted a senior pastor about the loan. "They basically said the loan was for the greater good and they were going to use the money to buy a bigger TRAP house to accommodate more people," she said. "And I was thinking 'that's all well and good - but why did I not know about it?'" Media playback is unsupported on your device Media caption SPAC Nation has been praised for helping people to leave gangs On Friday the charities regulator revealed it had opened its own investigation into SPAC Nation's safeguarding and finances. The Charity Commission also ordered SPAC Nation to "bank its money". The Metropolitan Police is reviewing allegations of possible fraud and other offences before deciding whether to investigate further. SPAC Nation denies that the church's lead pastor Tobi Adegboyega is financially exploiting young people. It said the church had a "robust complaints procedure" and "a well run disciplinary system". SPAC Nation told the BBC that the church "is not responsible what goes on inside individual leaders' or members' houses". Tobi Adegboyega ignored BBC Panorama's request for an interview. Watch the full investigation on Panorama at 19:30 GMT or afterwards on BBC iPlayer. How Verizon Media and our partners bring you better ad experiences To give you a better overall experience, we want to provide relevant ads that are more useful to you. For example, when you search for a film, we use your search information and location to show the most relevant cinemas near you. We also use this information to show you ads for similar films you may like in the future. Like Verizon Media, our partners may also show you ads that they think match your interests. Learn more about how Verizon Media collects and uses data and how our partners collect and use data. HuffPost is part of Verizon Media. Verizon Media and our partners need your consent to access your device and use your data (including location) to understand your interests, and provide and measure personalised ads. Verizon Media will also provide you with personalised ads on partner products. Learn more. Select 'OK' to continue and allow Verizon Media and our partners to use your data, or select 'Manage options' to view your choices. The UK Charity Commission has begun investigating SPAC Nation, a church run by Tobi Adegboyega, a Nigerian pastor, over allegations that its pastors told worshippers to "take out loans and sell their blood in order to pay for the church's lavish spending." Mail Online reports that the commission has ordered the church to bank all their money for the period of the investigation. In November, it was reported that the church's leaders threatened parishioners who failed to raise enough money and one pastor had even asked her followers to "beg, borrow or steal" in order to gather money for the church. Mariam Mbula, a 30-year-old senior leader in the church, had reportedly been jailed in the UK, Belgium and Spain, and was also wanted for leading a crime gang in Italy. The senior leader who had been praised for turning her life around after she was jailed for fraud at the age of 18, reportedly had at least 13 convictions for 34 offences; 27 for fraud and dishonesty. In a statement, the commission said: "Of immediate concern to the commission is that substantial amounts of charity money are held in cash. "As a protective measure, the commission has issued an order under Section 84 of the Charities Act, requiring the charity to bank its money. "The commission is also concerned about the apparent lack of clarity between the personal, business and charity roles of leaders within the charity.' A spokesman of the commission was quoted as saying the issues raised about the church were "highly concerning "The issues that have been raised related to SPAC Nation in recent weeks are highly concerning, even more so as the allegations are entirely at odds with the expectations about the way that charities will operate," he reportedly said. "The opening of this inquiry is an important step that will allow us to examine these concerns further and establish the facts. Reacting in a statement from its board of trustees, SPAC Nation said the inquiry was "needful to lay to rest some unverified allegations. If anything is found wrong we will adjust it, and if not we will keep going strong. If any pastor or leader is caught pressuring people to donate, such leader will be expelled without delay, not to talk of pressuring to donate blood for money. "We encourage people to donate blood and all they can for the community but we also say not for money ever, that just won't happen here."