The Kingsway International Christian Church has faulted a report by The Eagle Online with the title: “Ashimolowo’s Church under criminal probe.”
The church said the story, published on February 16, 2017, missed out some of the issues already raised and thrashed before then.
The report, based on an earlier one by The Guardian of London, was about the probe of some funds by a former Charlton Athletic player, Richard Rufus, who reportedly lost £3.9 million to an investment in KICC.
According to the story by The Guardian, Detectives from City of London police’s fraud teams are investigating the issue.
However, the church, through its lawyer, Esther and Makarios, said the facts contained in the story were inaccurate and meant to malign the church and Pastor Ashimolowo.
The letter from the lawyer, signed by Dr. Oladapo Olanipekun (SAN), titled: “Mischievous, malicious and misleading reporting,” said in part: “Our clients are not subject of any criminal investigation in the United Kingdom or in any jurisdiction at all.
“The only element of truth/reality, which your report merely allude to, is a case where KICC was/is one of the many victims of a fraudulent investment scheme.
“Pastor Matthew Ashimolowo is not a trustee of KICC.
“The Guardian report of 12 February 2017 from which your story was supposedly sourced is headlined: Police Investigate alleged fraud involving former football, in sharp contrast, disconnect and mismatch with your ‘derivative’ headline.”
The KICC through its lawyer said the story suggested that: KICC is the subject of ongoing criminal investigation in the United Kingdom; There is an ongoing investigation into ‘mismanagement’ at KICC; and that a former Premier League footballer ‘lost £3.9 million to KICC’.
The letter further stated that the story suggested that: Pastor Matthew Ashimolowo is linked inextricably to the facts alluded above and he is at the centre/root of an investment of 5 million pounds with Richard Rufus; Our clients were/are criminally complicit in the investment, subject of your report; That the funds invested were sourced specifically by Pastor Matthew Ashimolowo preaching ‘a health and wealth gospel to a congregation of thousands at his Prayer Palace in Kent’; and that Pastor Ashimolowo ‘collected £5,8000,000 (five million, eight hundred thousand Great British Pound) from churchgoers in 2015 for purposes of the scheme.
The letter further suggested that: KICC received $10,000,000 (ten million US Dollars) from the London Development Agency in connection with the investment; A Charity Commission investigation into the investment indicated the trustees of KICC; The investigation in above is connected with a 2005 investigation of our clients; There is internal wrangling and carping within the KICC hierarchy and, in particular, KICC’s Chief Operating Officer, Mr. James McGlashan has made allegations against Pastor Matthew Ashimolowo.
The letter added: “Arising from the foregoing, your story and caption, appearing on both the print and online versions of your publication, are most unfortunate, inaccurate, misleading, malicious, unfair, defamatory, libelous and incriminating. You are aware that KICC is one of the largest churches in Western Europe and Africa, with ten of thousands of congregants in weekly attendance. Pastor Matthew Ashimolowo is not only a longstanding pastor of international repute and renown, he is a respected Nigerian, philanthropist, educationist and media personality with teeming followers who hold him in high esteem. He is also a bestselling author.
“As a direct and remote result of your false, inaccurate, misleading and libelous publication, our clients have been inundated with several enquiries from different parts of the world by concerned members, followers, associates and friends demanding explanation and clarification about their purported criminal investigation. This has caused serious embarrassment to our clients’ reputation and organizational establishment. It has also raised undue apprehension amongst KICC congregant worldwide. We are not also unmindful that this report is calculated to instigate public antagonism against our clients.
Your action has caused considerable distress to our clients, putting their distinguished and illustrious reputation, earned over decades, at risk. In particular, you are aware that our clients’ sphere of operation is spiritual/religious, making the effect of your reporting more grievous and its consequences more tarnishing. Rather than establish the truth of your report/caption, you published same without taking any steps that would have revealed its inaccuracy. You have projected our clients as spearheading, masterminding and being part of a criminal investment scheme, when indeed KICC in particular has been a victim.”
The law firm, therefore, demanded a retraction of the publication and an unreserved apology.
Reacting to the development, the Managing Editor of The Eagle Online, Dotun Oladipo, said: “Aside the fact that The Eagle Online does not have a print version as it only publishes online, the facts contained in the story were not meant to embarrass either the KICC or Pastor Matthew Ashimolowo.
“It was based entirely on the facts provided by the investigation carried out by both the Charity Commission and the Police in the UK and as published by The Guardian.
“There was no allusion, no opinion added, no insinuation and no attempt to inject any emotion into the story.
“It is surprising that such meanings could have been read into the story.
“In fact, using the photograph of Pastor Ashimolowo to illustrate any story on KICC is not a strange development in this part of the world as he is the face of the church.
“More so, this is a medium that had in stories done in the past reported the activities of the church and its Founder without ‘meanings’ being read into it.
“At The Eagle Online, we set out to do our work with the highest professional standards and will not degenerate to the level insinuated by the law firm in its letter.
“Our records speak for us.
“We, therefore, say once again that we did not set out to malign anyone in the handling of the story in question and will not even in future stories.”