Controversial prophet Shepherd Bushiri is fighting tooth and nail not to lose his luxury jet.
The aircraft was preserved earlier this year as prosecuting authorities claimed it was bought with the proceeds of crime. The office of the National Director of Public Prosecutions now has its eye on him having to forfeit the plane.
But Bushiri, in a lengthy affidavit before the Gauteng High Court, Pretoria, explained in detail that the plane was ultimately bought with legitimate proceeds. He is blaming a conspiracy and vendetta by some people against him due to his popularity. He said this was one of the reasons why charges of fraud and money laundering had been brought against him and his wife Mary.
The charges led to the preservation order earlier, which was granted in terms of the Prevention of Organised Crime Act. The prosecution authority claimed that the aircraft was “the proceeds of unlawful activities” and was instrumental in the alleged crimes Bushiri allegedly committed.
Bushiri and his wife were arrested by the Hawks for fraud, money laundering and other related charges, and their trial is still to get under way in the Specialised Commercial Crimes Court. A few days after their release on bail in February, his company Shepherd Bushiri Investments was served with the preservation order for the plane. Bushiri is the founder of the Enlightened Christian Gathering Church, which has several branches across the world as well as in Tshwane.
While the National Prosecuting Authority claimed Bushiri flouted exchange control regulations relating to R16 million worth of foreign currency when he bought the plane, the prophet denied this. He said there was nothing illegal in his purchase of the 1984 Gulfstream hangared at Lanseria Airport. According to Bushiri, he once mentioned that he was tired of all the travelling between his congregations here and outside the country’s borders.
He explained that his church had more than 300 branches in over 19 countries and 90 branches in South Africa. It had several sermons a week attended by thousands of people, who made financial contributions to the church.
Bushiri also explained that they received a lot of donations from outside parties and that several people also insisted on giving him gifts for his services. This as apart from the other payments he received, including private praying sessions for people in need. He said he was having a conversation with one of his pastors in 2016 on his travels and that it would be easier if he had an aircraft. They found one for $1250000 (R17m).
Bushiri said the amount was paid in three instalments with legitimate funds. In blaming his problems on a conspiracy theory against him, the Malawian said he became so popular in 2015 that it created animosity among certain local pastors. “They conspired against me in an endeavour to ruin my reputation. He further said there were even attempts on his life and that of his family, adding his car once exploded after getting out of it in the Sheraton Hotel’s parking. Certain members of the church were used to connive against me and provide false information.
Bushiri said he was even asked to pay a R10m bribe by a police captain “to avoid facing problems from the authorities”. He said he refused to pay the bribe, which was the start of his persecution. The prosecuting authority meanwhile said in its papers that it had enough facts to believe the aircraft was the proceeds of unlawful activities or the instrument of an offence.
An issue arose relating to outstanding hangar costs, which Bushiri said he had already paid in April this year. The application for forfeiture of the plane was not ready to go ahead at this stage and was thus removed from the roll.