Bushiri, 37, and his wife Mary, 39, appeared in the Pretoria Magistrate’s Court on charges of fraud and money laundering worth R102-million on Wednesday after they were arrested by the Hawks the previous day.
Hundreds of churchgoers were reported to have gathered outside the court to support the controversial “prophet”, whom they call “Major One” or “Papa”.
Bushiri has been referred to as one of the richest religious leaders on the continent, worth an estimated $150-million, and is often pictured with his private jet or luxury vehicles. ECG operates in multiple African countries, with 110 branches and a million worshippers in South Africa, Bushiri said in recent court papers.
Bushiri’s Sandton-based company Shepherd Bushiri Investments has interests in mining, real estate, and an airline, according to ECG’s website. In 2018, Bushiri launched the Sparkling Waters Hotel and Spa in Magaliesburg, one of eight hotels he reportedly owns across the globe.
“According to Bushiri, he ventured into business to support his family as he does not believe the church must support his family,” states ECG’s website.
Bushiri, who has claimed he can walk on air and perform miracles such as curing people of HIV, has often been accused of swindling church members, most notably by rival evangelical pastor Mboro Motsoeneng.
Police arrested Mary, a director at Shepherd Bushiri Investments, at a Sandton property and her husband, whom the Hawks said handed himself over with an “entourage of attorneys” after “attempting to evade the team”.
In a separate case, the couple was arrested on fraud and money laundering charges, involving over R15-million, in February 2019. In that case, they appeared in a pre-trial conference last week and the case is scheduled to be heard in the Pretoria High Court in May and June 2021.
Also included in that case is the couple’s alleged illegal violation of exchange control regulations for purchasing a 1984 Gulfstream jet for R19-million in cash.
Thousands of congregants attend Bushiri’s sermons and in recent years he has reportedly filled up FNB Stadium during his “crossover service” on New Year’s Eve.
In 2019, the Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Communities said he was not responsible for a stampede at his Pretoria Showgrounds church the previous year, where three people died and 17 others were injured.
While expressing his willingness to be subjected to the law, the “prophet” has dismissed the various allegations against him. He claims his detractors are either jealous of his church’s success or focusing on his wealth due to racism.
“I am a businessman and that is separate from being a prophet. My prosperity is from private businesses. Such questions are not asked from leaders of white churches but when an African man prospers, then it’s a problem,” he told BBC in 2018.
Video clips of Bushiri telling congregants he foresaw that 2020 would be a “great year” have been widely circulated on social media. Part of the year, however, could see the Bushiris await trial in prison as prosecutors on Wednesday argued that the couple should be denied bail.