Top officials of the Diocese of Lahore of the Church of Pakistan (CoP) are facing serious accusations of financial irregularities and embezzlement in the affairs of the Lahore Diocesan Trust Association (LDTA), which manages the Anglican Church of England properties across Pakistan worth billions of rupees, it has been learnt.
The allegations were made in two complaints filed with the office of the Registrar Joint Stock Companies, Lahore, by a senior officer of the Diocese of Lahore and four diocesan bishops of the CoP on November 13 and November 20, 2023, respectively.
“We were forced to draw the Registrar’s attention towards the affairs of the LDTA because of rampant financial irregularities and misappropriation in the organisation’s funds and property matters,” Reverend Emmanuel Lorraine, a director of the LDTA and vice president of the Diocesan Council of the Diocese of Lahore, told Kross Konnection.
Lorraine and Rt Reverend Leo Roderick Paul, the Bishop of the Diocese of Multan, have jointly filed the complaint under Sections 254 and 255 of the Companies Act 2017, seeking the Registrar’s intervention in the matter.
Bishop Paul was appointed as the Acting President (Commissary) of the LDTA and Acting President (Commissary) of the Lahore Diocesan Council by CoP Moderator Bishop Azad Marshall after the retirement of former Bishop of Lahore Irfan Jameel last year.
However, the moderator’s commissary was not allowed to take charge of the acting role by the Diocese of Lahore after it developed serious rifts with the Synod of the CoP over the election of the new bishop earlier this year. The Synod is the supreme legislative and supervisory body of the CoP comprising all eight dioceses.
The escalation in confrontation between the Diocese of Lahore and the CoP Synod has virtually collapsed the union of the largest Protestant church in Pakistan. Both sides are now engaged in a bitter legal battle, which many insiders believe is rooted in the other dioceses’ longstanding desire for joint control over the precious Anglican church properties in Pakistan.
“Our concern stems from the fact that during our tenure as member and director of LDTA for several years, we have not received any financial or operational information from the Treasurer, Mr Wilson Massey. This lack of transparency has raised suspicions of financial irregularities, misappropriations and embezzlements within the operations of the LDTA,” the complainants stated in their application filed with the Registrar’s office on Nov 13.
They pointed to alleged discrepancies between the recorded rental income and open-market rents for LDTA properties that suggested a possibility of undisclosed rental agreements with tenants; significant withdrawals of salaries and allowances within the LDTA with no information on approvals and contractual arrangements for these disbursements; lack of transparency in approvals or specifics of expenses categorized as legal and professional charges; ambiguity over reinvestment of funds withdrawn from Term Deposit Receipts (TDRs) upon maturity; and the appointment of the same auditor since 1984, raising questions on the firm’s impartiality and credibility.
The complainants have also questioned the exorbitant salary of the LDTA treasurer and a significant increase in his assets between 2020-2022.
“Mr Wilson Massey receives a substantial salary, however, there is no clear documentation of the approval for this significant compensation, even among committee members. Additionally, no policy governing such salaries in known to the Board and committee members,” the complaint states, adding that in the “current economic climate of hyperinflation, such a substantial increase in assets by a salaried individual raises question of impropriety,” the complaint added.
A week later, the bishops of the Dioceses of Peshawar, Multan, Karachi & Balochistan, and Faisalabad also raised similar concerns over the financial affairs of the LDTA in their joint application filed with the Registrar’s office on Nov 20.
“After the union of the Church of Pakistan on Nov 1, 1970, the Church of Pakistan was formally declared to be the legal and spiritual heir and successor of each and all of the churches. But fraudulently, with malafide intentions and concealments of facts, the Diocese of Lahore re-registered LDTA with a new constitution vide Registration No. RP/C-82 based on the submission of a photocopy certificate No. 105 of 1942-43 without the approval of the CoP and authority of the predecessors/real owners and excluding the CoP as members and Board of Directors of the LDTA,” the bishops’ complaint stated.
The senior church leaders alleged that the “illegal and unconstitutional action of the Diocese of Lahore was only carried out to misuse the properties and funds of the LDTA comprising billions of rupees.”
The complainants urged the Registrar to seek an explanation from the management of the LDTA and to direct them to submit details of all bank accounts operated by LDTA since 1982 to date, financial reports and all relevant documents, original constitution of 1942-43, filing certificates from 1942-1982, lists of members and Board of Directors since 1942-1982, documentary details of all LDTA properties, and legal authority issued by the real owners for re-registration of LDTA in 1982.
The bishops also called on the Registrar to “consider freezing or seizing of relevant documents, objects, articles, materials, accounts or properties under Section 255 of the Companies Act 2017.”
RUBBER STAMP BOARD?
“Religious organisations are institutions of public trust and church members as well as the community reasonably expect church officials to fulfill their religious calling and apply church funds to religious purposes. However, in LDTA’s case, there is no transparency in its financial matters. The Board of Directors is only given a quick overview of the financial reports verbally without handing them anything in black and white,” said Rev Lorraine, who has been a member of the diocese for nearly 40 years and is also an aspirant for the Lahore bishop’s office.
According to Lorraine, a majority of the LDTA board members were handpicked to ensure that no one questioned the treasurer about the financial matters.
“The board meetings are mere eyewash as no member has ever dared to question the treasurer. Also, several board members are related to the treasurer which in itself is a conflict of interest and hinders financial transparency,” he said.
Rev Lorraine claimed that the management had never presented any document related to rent or lease agreements of LDTA properties or legal matters before the board. “Mr Massey just verbally informs the board about the property matters and that’s it. None of us have ever seen any relevant document,” he claimed.
Elaborating on his accusation of financial misappropriation against the treasurer, the church leader said neither the board nor the diocesan council had information about the approval of the unusually high salary for the treasurer.
“The salaries, perks and incentives of the diocesan bishop, treasurer and the coordinator of the Lahore Diocesan Board of Education (LDBE) have never been discussed in the board or executive council meetings. We don’t know who approves the salaries of these big three,” he added.
Lorraine said that suspicions of financial embezzlement in LDTA surfaced when tax details of the treasurer were leaked on social media some months ago.
“The leaked documents showed that Mr Massey bought multiple expensive properties between 2020-22, while on the other hand, the pensions of clergy were abruptly stopped in 2016-17 citing financial constraints. Despite the shocking revelation, the matter has not been raised in the diocesan council and no explanation was sought from the treasurer,” he said.
Meanwhile, it has been learnt on good authority that the senior priest has also highlighted the alleged financial malpractices in the LDTA in a letter addressed to the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby. The archbishop is the head of the Anglican Church of England and leader of the worldwide Anglican Communion.
Kross Konnection made repeated attempts to contact LDTA treasurer Wilson Massey but he did not respond to several phone calls and a message sent on his WhatsApp number.
‘COP PROPERTIES UP FOR GRABS’
Meanwhile, in what can be seen as a kneejerk reaction to the complaint filed against the LDTA management, Wilson Massey, who also holds the position of LDTA secretary, on Nov 16 sent a letter to Bishop of Multan Leo Paul revoking the authority letter and special power of attorney for the LDTA properties in Muzaffargarh.
“There are several LDTA properties in the Multan diocese but our role has always been limited to protecting them from land grabbers who work in connivance with certain LDTA officials,” Bishop Leo Paul told Kross Konnection.
The bishop further alleged that the LDTA illegally sold several church properties in Multan diocese during the tenure of former Lahore Diocese Bishop Alexander John Malik.
“Their modus operandi was to hand over possession of the properties to the buyers without making any formal sale agreements, thereby leaving no documentary evidence. Once the properties were taken over by the buyers, LDTA filed cases against them which continued for years without any success,” he said.
Citing the Christ Church property case, Bishop Leo said his diocese had won the court case against the land grabbers after a protracted legal battle but the LDTA management was avoiding eviction of the illegal occupants from the property.
“LDTA spends hundreds of millions of rupees on property cases but it seems it’s just a way for certain people to mint money in the name of legal expenses. When Rev Lorraine shared the state of affairs within the LDTA, I decided to support his effort to unmask the corruption in the church institution,” he said.
This scribe contacted the disputed Lahore bishop Nadeem Kamran, former Lahore bishop Alexander John Malik, and LDTA senior director Anthony Lamuel but they did not respond by the time of filing of this report. Bishops of Karachi and Peshawar dioceses – Frederick John and Humphrey Sarfaraz Peters, respectively – also did not respond to calls and WhatsApp messages.
Interestingly, during the course of the investigation, Kross Konnection obtained a court document wherein the then JSC Registrar Nazir Ahmad in a statement recorded before the additional district judge, Lahore, on March 19, 2005, confirmed that the original constitution of the LDTA, fresh filing certificates and lists of members and board of directors from 1942-43 to 1982 were missing from the record of the Registrar’s office.
A source on the condition of anonymity said that the LDTA record in the JSC Registrar’s office also does not contain any legal authority issued by the Anglican Church of England for the re-registration of the LDTA in 1982 initiated by then bishop, Alexander John Malik.
“People at the helm of affairs in LDTA for several decades will now have to present the entire record from 1942-43 to 1982 before the Registrar. It’s utterly shameful that people entrusted with managing the church properties are involved in fiscal abuse and misuse of power but there’s now some hope of accountability,” the source said.
It may be noted that the Registrar Joint Stock Companies, Lahore, has given a one-week deadline to the LDTA secretary for submitting a response to the complaint filed by Rev Lorraine and Bishop Leo Paul.