The founder of one of Brazil's biggest evangelical churches siphoned off billions of dollars in donations from his mostly poor followers to buy jewelry, TV stations and other businesses for himself, authorities charged Tuesday.
A Brazilian judge accepted the charges from prosecutors alleging that Bishop Edir Macedo and nine other people linked to the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God committed fraud against the church and against its numerous followers.
The Sao Paulo state prosecutor's office alleged in a statement that Macedo and the others took more than $2 billion in donations from 2003 to 2008 alone, but charged that the alleged scheme went back 10 years.
Church lawyer Arthur Lavigne told the newspaper Folha de S. Paulo that the accused deny any wrongdoing. Church officials did not respond to attempts to reach them by phone and e-mail.
Prosecutors said the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God receives nearly $800 million in donations every year from church members across Brazil.
Authorities alleged that the church used fake companies to launder the money.
Macedo, who founded the church in 1977, owns a large television network, three newspapers and several radio stations. He also owns a tourism agency and an air taxi firm.