A court in the United States has ruled in favour of Mountain of Fire and Miracles Ministries, MFM, in a property and monetary dispute with former members and pastors of its American branch.
The suit was filed in September 2017 at a Circuit Court for Princes County in Maryland, USA, by MFM International, Lagos, and its branch in Nevada.
According to Saharareporters, The church had sought declaratory judgment and damages against one Pastor Lawrence Adetunji, his wife and 11 other former members of the church in Bowie, Maryland.
Joined in the suit was Christ the Truth Ministries CTM, allegedly founded by the former members to succeed MFM Bowie branch.
The subject of the dispute were two properties reportedly acquired by MFM in 2001 and 2004, which are located at 5503 and 5506 Church Road, in Bowie. The money used to build the Bowie branch was equally a subject of contention.
The defendants had claimed that the purchase of the properties were exclusively acquired through various contributions by MFM members in Bowie. It added that the branch did not receive any assistance from its headquarters in Lagos, or General Overseer, Dr. DK Olukoya.
MFM, however told the court that at the time Pastor Adetunji and the other defendants quit the church in anger, they were legally required to hand over the properties and funds to it, which they did not.
Pastor Adetunji and his co-defendants maintained that it did not do so because MFM had no legal claim over the properties it did not contribute any money towards. They claimed the church did not oblige them when they sought it for loan to purchase the properties. The defendants also said there was no valid legal trust created for the benefit of the parent church.
They maintained they quit the church and broke relationship with the church's leadership over alleged fraudulent activities.
The respondents further alleged that MFM International had a fondness for deliberately making false claims to the US Customs as a way of evading duties and tax on books imported from Nigeria.
They said the church would email pastors, directing them on the prices to sell books such as '70 Days Prayer and Fasting’ and ‘Pray Your Way into the Current Year’ to members and remit the money, after telling the U.S. government they were donations meant for church members in the US.
The members said on discovery of the alleged practice, they opted to quit the church so as not to participate in illegality.
In its ruling, the court held that Pastor Adetunji and other former members converted MFM's property to their own personal use without authority from the church. It equally held that the defendants, as trustees of the church, had acted in a manner by illegally changing the articles on which their status rested.
The court also held that Pastor Adetunji did not notify the church's headquarters of his resignation before setting up Christ the Truth Ministries with the other members. The court established that arms of MFM do not operate independently but do so under the control of the parent church.
It further ruled that Pastor Adetunji attended training with MFM in Nigeria and used the church's logo, indicating affiliation with the church.
The court ordered that "a full audit of assets be carried out and all bank accounts submitted for scrutiny", to determine if it will enter any monetary judgment against the defendants.