An elderly couple who lent Brian Tamaki the money that helped him start his Destiny Church empire say the funds were “hijacked” and they had given up hope of ever retrieving the full amount.
Barry and Marian Wilson lent everything they had – $450,000 – to Tamaki’s Lake City Church in Rotorua, from which his multimillion-dollar Destiny empire grew.
The money was to be used to construct a new church but the couple allege the funds were diverted into a project they had not approved and that almost 10 years after the funds were advanced, they are still owed $150,000.
After the Sunday Star-Times began investigating the loan this week, Destiny Church moved to settle the debt. It says it will be paid at the end of the month.
A letter sent to the paper, signed by Tamaki’s wife Hannah and the church’s communications adviser Janine Cardno, said: “We are sorry that the loan and communications of progress that should have flowed readily were non-existent, and we have now resolved the problem to everyone’s satisfaction.”
Barry Wilson, 75, said he doubted he would have seen the balance of the money so promptly if the Star-Times had not got involved.
“It would have gone on for another 10 years if nothing had been done. If they had been more responsible to the people who support them most, they wouldn’t have got tied up in this mess.”
Wilson said he had repeatedly called on Brian Tamaki to repay the money.
“He (Tamaki) wouldn’t talk to me, he’d put me on to his lawyer all the time. It got to the stage where he wouldn’t take my calls.” He said he had decided not to take Tamaki to court because despite everything, he still believed the televangelist was doing a “damn good job” of God’s work.
“I really wouldn’t want to push him to court because I really don’t want to offend God that much.”
Wilson lent the money, which he had received from the sale of his nautical clothing label Line 7, in the mid-’90s, on the understanding that it be used for the purchase of a block of land in Rotorua and the construction of a church. The interest was 10%. The couple moved to Australia and say they learned “by accident” that the project had been cancelled, the land sold, and the money used on a new project, the renovation of Rotorua’s Odeon cinema.
The Wilsons say they were angry they were not consulted. “As far as I was concerned he (Tamaki) took a hell of a big risk with changing his use of the money and borrowing a lot more money from other people, without giving us the option of whether we would accept that or not.”
The Wilsons asked for their money back, but say they had trouble getting it. Eventually, after about a year, they received $300,000.
“I think they thought I was a threat to them and I could cause them a lot of damage so they’d better do something about it.”
He is unsure why the full amount was not repaid. The church had continued to pay interest on the outstanding $150,000.
The Star-Times asked Brian Tamaki for a response to a series of questions about the loan, but he declined to respond.
Cardno said it was none of the paper’s business.