31 July 2023 |
Translated from Adventist Today Latino:
On May 24, 2023, the Oral Federal Criminal Court No. 5 of San Martin, Buenos Aires, set out “to resolve the present incident of lack of action formed in the framework of the case FSM 42199/2016/TO1/22 (RI N° 3912)” referring to a process that began in July 2016, when Customs detected two containers in Zárate coming from the United States, with high-end electronic items disguised as “donations” to evade taxes.
The 25-page resolution, which can be viewed here in Spanish, shows the allegations embodied by the Federal Administration of Public Revenues (AFIP) of Argentina against the leaders of the Adventist Church and those allegedly involved in the process of smuggling undeclared electronic equipment.
In addition, the resolution contains reports by the National Administration of Medicines, Food and Medical Technology (ANMAT), since the containers included expired medical supplies and sanitary waste, considered hazardous:
“…upon carrying out the verification of the merchandise that the offenders intended to introduce into the country based on a simulated donation -made by ADRA (“Adventist Development and Relief Agency International”) to the AAASD (“Argentine Association of Seventh-day Adventists”)-, not only were found electronic products purchased abroad (USA) that had never been declared as such, but also “. …an enormous quantity of medical products and supplies, clinical waste and material of the same kind related to animal and human medicine, used, in poor condition, without the corresponding date of manufacture, not authorized by ANMAT, thus contravening the Basel Convention on the control of transboundary movements of hazardous wastes and their disposal…” (pp. 16-17).
The value of the high-end electronic equipment totaled $991,000, while other undeclared equipment found in the two containers was valued at $396,400 total. The donation was made in the name of the “Argentinean Association of Seventh-day Adventists.”
Lawyers of the Adventist Church in Argentina filed appeals to request the cessation of the case, under Article 10 of Law No. 27,541.
“-according to Law No. 27.562-, the second paragraph of which states that “The total cancellation of the debt under the conditions set forth in the present regime, by compensation, in cash or through a payment plan will produce the extinction of the criminal tax or customs criminal action, to the extent that there is no final judgment as of the date of cancellation.”
According to internal sources, the Adventist Church paid their outstanding debt to the Federal Administration of Public Revenues for customs taxes that they attempted to evade in 2016. Fines of up to $100,000 were paid for smuggling throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, not counting attorney expenses and legal fees.
The strategy of the lawyers hired by the Argentina Union Conference was to avoid the Adventist Church going to trial under any circumstances, along with avoiding the outcome of the Nation’s Judiciary having full access to the organization’s finances and apparatus. If that were to happen, it could’ve involved, not only the Adventist Church in Argentina, but also the South American Division and the General Conference. Instead of facing a judicial process to prove their innocence, the Argentine Union decided to accept the fines for the smuggling offense, as well as the corresponding customs payments.
In mid-2016, the main media in Argentina covered the scandal and the arrests of several main Adventist leaders in Argentina: Union president Carlos Ursus Gill Kru, Union treasurer Carlos Daniel Gimenez Graf, and ADRA director Roberto Osvaldo Giaccarini. The offices of the Union and Buenos Aires Conference were raided by agents from the Argentine Federal Police (PFA). PFA agents also entered Universidad Adventista del Plata (UAP) to seize equipment and arrest Provost, Oscar Ramos, and main suspect and Financial Vice Provost, De Sousa Matías. Raids also took place on other premises of the Adventist Church.
Prosecutors proved that the supposed donations were made by ADRA. Gabriel Di Nicola, who reported the situation for La Nación, said: “Supposedly it was electromechanical hospital equipment, but in reality it was contraband of high-end electronic products and an import operation, which is prohibited, including new and used pharmaceutical and medical products.”
The 2016 judicial resolution, led by Judge Adrián González Charvay, detailed the fraudulent operations incurred by the Church,
“…hindering, through trickery and deceit […], and making use of special authorizations and certifications issued in contravention of the legal provisions […] in order to obtain, with respect to the merchandise that was intended to be imported, a more favorable customs or tax treatment than the corresponding one and presenting to the customs service adulterated documents necessary to complete the operation.”
Argentine Federal Police seized cell phone conversations during the raids, belonging to Financial Vice Provost of UAP, De Sousa Matías, and another main suspect. De Sousa Matías had said: “Don’t speak of this, but right now we’re in bad shape. They’ve unloaded everything and have been going through the boxes for the last three days. Keep praying.”
Four days after that call, De Sousa Matías received a message from a woman in his entourage with a suggestion: “Pastor, isn’t there an influential politician you can talk to?” “Good idea,” he replied. “We are looking into it.”
On February 19, 2017, President of the Argentine Union, Pastor Gill Krug, addressed the churches through a video explaining that they would appeal the judicial measure at that time, because it was “inaccurate, had omissions and exaggerations.” [Although it was later removed from the official page of the Union.] He also reported the resignation of the Provost and Financial Vice Provost of UAP in order to facilitate the investigations. Krug further said that the South American Division had put together a kind of accountability committee,
“… an extraordinary committee organized by the South American Division with the objective to analyze the internal processes of the Union. To determine possible errors, correct them and avoid future problems for the church. Now, the church should clarify, and is interested in clarifying, this situation, because it is the only way God can bless us. It is the only way the community can trust us.”
Internal sources explained to Adventist Today that this Truth Committee never existed, and to date the Adventist Church in Argentina has not given any explanation to the local churches. Despite the fact that the judicial process contemplated “dismissing” the last individuals who were subject to investigation and “ceasing” the restrictions in May 2023.
While the top leaders of the Argentine Union resigned after February 2017, they were quietly relocated to other positions outside of Argentina, while others were retired. But the reality is that the Adventist organization’s treatment of administrators is not consistent with the realities of the local churches.
Marcos Pesaggi, correspondent for Adventist Review, published an article on February 23, 2017, titled: “Facing Charges, Adventist leaders in Argentina pledge to start anew.” It was reported that Argentine Union leaders had resigned, but the South American Division’s statement was also repeated:
“The Church [Adventist in South America] deeply regrets this whole situation that affects our community of faith and Argentine society,” the statement said. “[We uphold] ethical and moral values based on the Bible, which promote compliance with the law. As since the beginning of the case, [we reiterate our] cooperation with the corresponding authorities.”
Unfortunately, instead of strengthening transparency and accountability, the Adventist Church in South America followed the path of oblivion, assuming that the change of administrators for “new” ones, along with silence, would allow the Church to recover its credibility. Instead of strengthening the participation and oversight of the laity as constituents at different Conference and Union levels, the South American Division has continued to deprive the laity of their representative authority.
Problems can rarely be solved by the entities that create them. The present situation in South America can only be overcome with impartial and professional accountability, both by the laity and by professionals who are not controlled by the organization. Without the participation and control of the constituents, transparency will not be achieved. The time has come to limit the freedoms and control of administrators at all levels of the Adventist organization.
Daniel Mora is the editor for Adventist Today Latino, representing the Latin American region of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.