Gospel for Asia US ordered to refund $37 million to donors for false advertising
On March 6, 2019, a US court decided a settlement of US$37 million for American donors of Gospel for Asia. In our reading of the settlement, Canadian donors to Gospel for Asia known in Canada as GFA World are not eligible to participate in a $37 million refund brought about by a class action settlement to donors. Please go to www.gfaclassaction.us for information.
Donors sued Gospel for Asia USA for misrepresentation. This US settlement may give other charities the heads up about advertising. At the heart of this class action suit was the 100% guarantee that donations went to the cause. Another wrinkle was the Christmas gift catalogs where donors “bought” items like water buffalos and sewing machines. Gospel for Asia could not provide evidence that donations actually funded these “gifts”.
The legal case went on for more than three years. While the donors sued for fraud and racketeering, they settled for less. Part of the settlement requires the charity to publish annual reports on the work accomplished with donated funds.
Dr. Garland Murphy, who led the legal suit, gets one board set replacing Gospel for Asia’s founders’ wife. No other family members of Gospel for Asia’s founder, K.P. Yohannan, are allowed to be added to the board for three years. In addition, donors will lead a sub-committee overseeing donor accountability and how donor funds are spent.
While this donor victory is in the US, two charity directors and the executive director of Canadian charity GFA World (known in Canada as Gospel for Asia) were named in the suit, founder K.P. Yohnannan, his son Daniel Punnose, and Canadian Executive Director, Pat Emerick.
Similar allegations about the use of donations have been made about GFA World, based in Stoney Creek, Ontario. Canadians have notified the Charities Directorate and the RCMP about GFA World. Garry Cluley, a retired RCMP officer who worked in security and intelligence was a director of Gospel for Asia Canada (recently names GFA World) until he asked to see the financials. His “term expired” thereafter. Cluley filed a formal complaint with the Charities Directorate. At the heart of the complaints are allegations about how $128 million in donations went “missing” in India. All Gospel for Asia chapters have vehemently denied these allegations of fraud as “entirely false, even absurd”.
Gospel for Asia is notorious in India. The lawsuit alleged that between 2010 and 2013 Gospel for Asia collected US$4.2 million to support widows and orphans. The Times of India reports government’s documents show that only $31,265 was spent on widows and orphans. Historically Gospel for Asia was the largest foreign charity remitting funds to India. India’s Ministry of Home Affairs reports that in F2016 it transferred US$268 million. In October 2017 MHA cancelled the registration of Gospel for Asia and its associated charities, forbidding the remittance of overseas funds.
With remittances to India canceled, Gospel for Asia’s charity return shows spending on its overseas charity programs declined from $10 million to $108,000 in 2017, while donations remained at $8.6 million.
It will be interesting to see if Canadian donations and the $11.1 million in funding reserves at Canada’s GFA World are used to pay this refund to American donors. Given GFA World’s current transparency and accountability here in Canada, we’ll likely never know.
Steve Buist, "Hamilton-based charity settles lawsuit for $37 million: the American parent of a Canadian missionary organization based in Stoney Creek has agreed to pay US$37 million to settle a class-action lawsuit that alleged the charity had engaged in racketeering and fraud", Hamilton Spectator, March 6, 2019
Disney Tom, "Yohannan settles US lawsuit", Times of India, March 6, 2019
Shenoy Karum, "MFA: No foreign funds for Believers Church", Times of India, October 6, 2017
Sarah Eekhoff Zylstra "Gospel for Asia settles lawsuit with $37 million refund to donors: Major ministry ends class action with no acknowledgement of guilt and gives board seat to plaintiff", Christianity Today International, March 1, 2019