Wednesday, 26th January 2011

EVANGELICAL  EVADERS

We would not even dare presume to instruct India's Finance Minister, Sriman Pranab Mukherjee, on how to do his job.  His parliamentary career spans five decades, and his current portfolio as Finance Minister for India's burgeoning economy, is indicative of the trust bestowed on him by his Party and the Indian populace.  Furthermore, he comes to the position with degrees in Arts, History, Political Science, Law, and an honorary D. Litt., which gives right to honoris causa.  Yes, as a Bengali, this author is both proud and in awe of his academic and political achievements.  It is why we have difficulty in understanding how a erudite scholar, with journalistic experience (Desher Dak. Bengali Publication), can be oblivious to the present tax scams in operation under his nose by godmen, and specifically, of foreign origin.

Whereas the Indian citizenry is taxed for income from Salaries, income from Property, income from Business / Profession, income from Capital Gains, Service Taxes, Central Excise, silk-garbed godmen with Rolex watches (using Indian 'disciples' to infiltrate Indian families) are pulling in millions without paying a single paisa in tax.  Former Additional Commissioner of Income Tax, Vishwa Bandhu Gupta, has already made public declaration wherein he has stated: "We have calculated and found that religious leaders annually earn $3 billion which is about Rs 10,000 crore -Rs 15,000 crore worth of money." (unquote.)  These incomes are not subject to tax because the criminal element, using God and scripture as leverage, are compromising Indian businessmen (globally) into helping exploit the tax-exemption status and using their gullibility to involve them in tax scams. 

What was once a simple sadhu at the door seeking doya for chandan, is now a booming business which shifts large sums of revenue beyond government coffers and into areas no one can follow.  Using temples constructed from marble and an elaborate puja program, foreign godmen have convinced guileless Indian families worldwide, who see opulence as a manifestation of God on earth, to join as paying members and donate endlessly.  These 'donations', as revealed by CNN IBN and this web site, are twisted into tax scams that require immediate Government attention. 

Recent revelations by CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor, Eric Marrapodi, identifies the source of criminal tax evasion under the guise of religious institution, as having its origins and practices based and honed in the United States.  It is a scam that has been exported to India.  If one takes into account the U. S. Senate is about half Republican, and Republicans in America are either evangelistic or sympathetic to evangelists, then the CNN revelation tell us that in spite of religious affiliations and sympathies; corruption and cheating by U.S. godmen has gone beyond the level of tolerance endured by their own supporters.

Feeling the heat from U.S. Government authorized inquiries back home, confidence tricksters have fixed Indians, and the burgeoning Indian economy, firmly in their crosshairs.  And why not?  With a staggering target of 837 million Hindus, all of whom have been indoctrinated since birth to accept God and to assist His temples and priests with charity; it's like taking candy from a baby.  Are these godmen reincarnated tax evading Mafioso gun-toting gangsters of the American 30's and 40's, who have found Utopia in the guise of Indian godmen?  Have they found a way to beat the RICO Laws that brought about their downfall in a previous birth?  Or are they the old enemy who used shot and shell to occupy the Indian sub-continent and set up Writer's Buildings to list the loot being dispatched to foreign treasuries, and now use Indian Government legislated tax-exemption laws to do the same thing? 

The onus for protection of its peoples lies unequivocally with the Indian Government, and in particular with the illustrious Finance Minister, Sriman Pranab Mukherjee.  Since the Income Tax Department of India, comes under his jurisdiction, the Minister should, as is being carried out by U.S. counterparts, launch investigations into the lavish lifestyles and multi-million dollar business dealings of U.S. godmen operating in India, who have become invisible to the Indian Tax Office.

As a respected member of the Sansad, we request Sriman Mukherjee, to put aside his sentiments for organizations such as ISKCON, which we appreciate and respect as founded by a Bengali, His Divine Grace, A.C. Bhaktivedanti Swami Prabhupad, who was born in Kolkata, not too far from the Finance Minister's own home town of Kirnahar, in Birbhum District.  To expose the foreign criminal element in such organizations will only help in fostering the promotion of Vedic Culture as a pure unadulterated gift from India to the world, and simultaneously send a caveat emptor to Indian families globally.  Thank You.

Bhaktivedanta Investigation Force (BIF)

Government review of televangelists' finances released

By Eric Marrapodi, CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

The result of a Senate committee's long-awaited review of media-based ministries has finally been released.

Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, began the investigation into six televangelists in November 2007, when he was head of the Senate Committee on Finance. His office released the review Thursday.

At issue was compensation for the pastors and ministry leaders who openly led lavish lifestyles while their ministries received tax-exempt status from the Internal Revenue Service.

The review by the committee did not impose new rules on the religious organizations or suggest they be stripped of their tax-exempt status. But it did bring to light compensation practices that may raise eyebrows in the non-profit community and lead to a discussion of new tax policies for religious organizations.

"The staff review sets the stage for a comprehensive discussion among churches and religious organizations," Grassley said in a prepared statement. "I look forward to helping facilitate this dialogue and fostering an environment for self-reform within the community."

Of the six organizations targeted by Grassley's review, only Joyce Meyer Ministries and Benny Hinn of World Healing Center Church participated fully. The review states both groups were working to reform their ministries' financial practices.

Committee staff members Theresa Pattara and Sean Barnett wrote in the staff review, "The reforms undertaken by Pastor Hinn and Joyce Meyer are extensive and are to be commended." Joyce Meyer Ministries, based in St. Louis, went so far as to join the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability.

The other ministries in the review did not participate fully or at all, the senator's office said.

The review and correspondence released by Grassley's office shows Randy and Paula White of Without Walls International Church, Eddie Long of New Birth Missionary Baptist Church, and Kenneth and Gloria Copeland of Kenneth Copeland Ministries submitted incomplete responses to the senator's questions.

Atlanta-based Creflo and Taffi Dollar of World Changers Church International/Creflo Dollar Ministries did not participate at all, declining the senator's requests, according to released correspondence between Grassley and Dollar's attorneys.

Long responded in a statement Thursday night, "I am relieved that after more than three years of intense investigation and countless untrue allegations, that Senator Chuck Grassley's review has found no evidence of wrongdoing. Our ministry at New Birth has always and will continue to operate with accountability and integrity. I am thankful to God that the public now knows the truth."

Where churches would not participate, the review says, the investigators declined to issue subpoenas, instead relying on public records, court testimony, and even confidential informants.

According to the review, many of the ministries operate multiple non-profits, with the leaders drawing some form of compensation from each of them.

"The number and types of entities, including private airports and aircraft leasing companies, raises concerns about the use of the church's tax-exempt status to avoid taxation. However, given the four churches' refusal to provide tax information, we are unable to determine whether and the extent to which they are reporting and paying taxes on income earned in those entities," the review states.

The review praised the broader religious community in the United States and noted there are a few bad apples that may lead to a discussion of a new tax law for religious entities.

"While the majority of churches and religious organizations operate with policies and procedures that make them accountable to their members, it is the small minority that don't that are subject to scrutiny by the members and the public, including the press. These outliers present tax policy issues for consideration," the review said.

Churches have long had a strange dance with the IRS. The government has to balance the constitutional rights of the churches under the Establishment Clause and the groups' rights to free speech. The review notes tax laws relating to churches have not been updated in decades. Because the ministries are incorporated as houses of worship, they are exempt from filing the financial disclosures the federal government requires of other non-profits.

"The challenge is to encourage good governance and best practices and so preserve confidence in the tax-exempt sector without imposing regulations that inhibit religious freedom or are functionally ineffective," Grassley said