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Bushiri: a ‘fugitive and shepherd on the run’

Author: BBC Africa | Published: Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Shepard Bushiri leads his church - the Enlightened Christian Gathering

South Africa has issued an arrest warrant for controversial millionaire pastor Shepard Bushiri, who skipped bail and returned home to Malawi.

Mr Bushiri is accused of money laundering and fraud, along with his wife and two others.

Crime investigators say the case involves $6.6 million.

On Saturday he told his social media followers that he had left South Africa because he had received death threats.

The preacher, who was on bail and awaiting trial for money laundering and fraud, had previously said he wanted to clear his name.

It is not clear how or when Mr Bushiri left South Africa.

Mr Bushiri appeared at Pretoria’s Magistrates Court on 21 October to hear the charges and was granted bail on 4 November.

He skipped bail sometime last week, something he described on Saturday as “a tactical withdrawal meant to preserve lives”.

In an interview with the BBC, Mr Bushiri refused to reveal how he escaped.

But the BBC’s Nomsa Maseko in Malawi’s capital, Lilongwe, reports that one possibility being considered is that he and his wife Mary were smuggled out by a sophisticated syndicate which specialises in taking stolen cars from South Africa to Malawi.

There have also been suggestions in the South African press that he was smuggled out in Malawi’s presidential jet – something which has been denied by the authorities in both countries.

The South African government said on Sunday that it had initiated the extradition process for Malawi to hand him over.

The South African police then issued the warrant for his arrest on Monday and said that if he doesn’t present himself to court before 19 November he will forfeit his residence.

The trial is scheduled for May.

Mr Bushiri has been described as one of the richest religious leaders in Africa.

He claims to have cured people of HIV, made the blind see, changed the fortunes of the impoverished and, on at least one occasion, appeared to walk on air, although none of these claims have been scientifically proven.

He is so popular that he has been known to fill sports stadiums with followers.

But he has also been accused of preying on poor people, desperate to improve their lives, by selling merchandise including “miracle oil”.

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