February 23, 2017: Two major news organizations in Argentina published stories last Friday (February 17) about criminal charges against leaders of the Adventist denomination that have been rumored since last summer. “Millions in contraband by Adventist Church: How did they pull it off?” was the headline on the Infobae online news service. The same story was published in the La Nacion newspaper.
Journalists reported that in July, 2016, customs officials opened a container of donated items addressed to River Plate Adventist University and found “a megashipment of high-value, sophisticated electronics … falsely labeled in order to evade import taxes.” The news story reported that Pastor Jorge de Sousa Matias, vice president for development at the university, was caught on a wire tap saying, “we are in trouble … for three days they have been opening it box by box.” And four days later in another phone call, “We’re looking into the possibility of approaching an influential politician about this.” Not long thereafter de Sousa Matias was arrested.
Last Sabbath (February 18), Pastor Carlos Gill, president of the Argentina Union Conference, released a video on Facebook and YouTube explaining the situation. He said that the denomination would contest the charges filed by a judge because they included “omissions … exaggerations [and] inaccurate information.” Gill also stated that de Sousa Matias and Dr. Oscar Ramos, the university president, had resigned. He stated that both the Argentina Union Conference and the denomination’s South American Division had appointed committees to investigate the situation. But he did not say that the denomination was innocent, nor did he admit that it had committed a crime, leaving that basic question ambiguous. His closing prayer on the video asked God to “clean” the denomination.
The next day the video was removed. In the short time it was available, it received many negative responses and bitter comments.
Today the Argentina Union Conference released a statement with a report on a meeting of its governing body yesterday (February 22). A total of five denominational leaders have resigned; the two university officers, Ramos and de Sousa Matia, and Gill, union conference treasurer Carlos Gimenez and Roberto Giaccrini, legal representative for the union conference. The resignations “will allow [the named individuals to] meet all the requirements of justice,” the statement said.
The union conference executive committee appointed a new president and treasurer. Dr. Dario Caviglione, president of the Central Argentine Conference, was appointed union conference president. Raul Kahl, treasurer of the South Argentine Conference, was appointed union conference treasurer.
“The Church profoundly regrets this situation that affects our faith community and the Argentinean society, since it supports ethical and moral values based on the Bible, which promote compliance with the laws,” the statement concluded. “It reaffirms its cooperation with the authorities.”
There are more than 150,000 Adventists in Argentina, a nation with 44 million residents. There are more than a thousand local congregations, as well as the university, a college, 15 secondary schools, three hospitals and six radio stations.
The feature photo is the flag of Argentina.