Brazilian Bishop And Priests Accused Of Stealing £462,000 From Church Funds
A group of Brazilian priests have been arrested on charges of stealing £426,000 in donations to the church, funeral costs, and charity cash.
Jose Ribeiro, who is the Bishop of Formosa - located in Brazil's state of Goiás - has been arrested alongside five other priests and three non-priests.
They've all been detained in prison accused of stealing 2 million reais (£426,000) from the church. The police raided one priests house and found about 90,000 reais (£19,200) hidden in plastic bags and stashed behind a false wall.
It is thought that the scheme took place over three years and aimed at diverting money from the church's coffers and into the pockets of the gang.
The state's prosecutors will argue that the bishop was the mastermind behind the scheme which saw funds go missing from baptisms, funerals, and weddings.
The case for the prosecution will rely on recorded phone conversations in which the group spoke about their methods of laundering the money by buying property, designer goods, mobile phones, and a lottery agency.
The police have also found large sums of foreign bank notes.
A spokesperson for the prosecution, Fernanda Balbinot said: "There were indications the money was used for personal expenses and that cars from the Formosa diocese were used for private purposes.
"Instead of presenting tax bills and expense receipts with the correct amount, documents were allegedly produced saying there was nothing to declare."
The case for the prosecution also argues that the priests paid protection to the bishop in order to keep their jobs. The amount for this was between 7,000 to 10,000 reais (£1,500 to £2,100).
Another of the prosecutors, Douglas Chegyry told the Brazilian press: "The information we have obtained is that in order to remain in the more profitable parishes that generated more money, the priests paid a cash allowance to the bishop."
During the raid of the house of Monsignor Epitacio Cardoso Pereira - one of the priests involved - police not only found the hidden cash, but also seized 3 iPhones, a MacBook, and a load of other money that they found in drawers about the house.
The priest claims it does not belong to him. Police officers were filmed counting the whole lot for hours afterwards.
The investigation was triggered after members of the churches in the area made allegations last year that the churches were misusing funds and asking for way more money for upkeep.
Some members of the congregation claimed they were asked to raise their contributions from 5,000 reais to 35,000 reais (£1,000 to £7,500) once the new bishop arrived in the diocese.
The lawyers of the accused claim that their clients refute the claims and that they will prove their innocence.
Pope Francis has installed a temporary bishop in the diocese - Father Paulo Mendes.
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