Prosecutors request extradition of Brazilian church founders arrested in Miami

SAO PAULO, Brazil — Brazilian prosecutors asked their government Thursday to request the extradition of two prominent evangelical church leaders arrested in Miami this week on money smuggling charges.

The husband and wife who founded Brazil’s Reborn in Christ Church are accused of taking parishioners’ money and “purchased mansions, real estate and other valuable assets worth millions of dollars (euros) both in Brazil and in the United States,” said Jose Reinaldo Guimaraes Carneiro, a prosecutor with Sao Paulo state’s organized crime unit.

Estevam Hernandes Filho, 52, and Sonia Haddad Moraes Hernandes, 48, were arrested by U.S. customs agents after they arrived Monday in Miami with US$56,467 (€43,476) in U.S. currency, but claimed to have US$10,000 (€7,700), according to an affidavit.

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The two were charged with failing to declare U.S. currency and bulk cash smuggling, federal charges that each carry a maximum sentence of five years in prison. The Brazilian prosecutors forwarded their extradition request to federal officials who must formally request the return of the two to Brazil.

Both are being held at a federal detention center in Miami for failure to post US$100,000 (€77,000) bond, said Alicia Valle, a spokeswoman with U.S. Attorney’s Office in Miami.

The church called the charges against Hernandes Filho and his wife “slander” and said there was simply a “mistake” in their customs declaration but declined to go into details.

Hernandes Filho, a former Xerox marketing executive, and his wife founded the Reborn in Christ Church in 1986 and rode the wave of popularity of evangelical churches in Brazil, the world’s largest Roman Catholic country.

These churches have drawn millions in the country of 187 million with dynamic services that appeal to younger, working- and middle-class Brazilians.

Critics say they exist to enrich their leaders, who demand big donations and offer vague promises that providence will reward the faithful with riches.

The Reborn in Christ Church claims to have “hundreds of thousands” of faithful and some 1,200 temples, including two in the United States — in Orlando and Boston — one in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and another in Padua, Italy.

In December, a Sao Paulo criminal court ordered the arrest of the couple on charges of money laundering, larceny and fraud, but a superior court suspended the order.

The court reissued the arrest warrant on Thursday and prosecutors forwarded a request for their extradition to Brazil’s Foreign Ministry, which said it had not received it.

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(Listed if other than Religion News Blog, or if not shown above)
, AP, via the International Herald Tribune, Jan. 11, 2007, http://www.iht.com

Religion News Blog posted this on Friday January 12, 2007.
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