Pastor accused of N1.3bn fraud denies EFCC arrest

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The General Overseer of Faith on the Rock Ministry International, Theophilus Ebonyi, said to have been arrested by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) over allegations of N1.3bn fraud has denied the arrest.

Minutes after word of his purported arrest spread, the pastor posted a brief video on his Facebook page, characterizing it as “false” and “rumor” spread by bloggers.

The pastor’s arrest and mugshot were first announced by the EFCC on Monday on its verified X handle, @officialEFCC.

The general overseer was apprehended for allegedly cheating churchgoers and others out of N1,319,040,274.31 in fictitious grants from the Ford Foundation, according to the anti-graft agency.

The statement partly read, “Operatives of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, have arrested the General Overseer of Faith on The Rock Ministry International, Apostle Theophilus Oloche Ebonyi, for defrauding church members and other Nigerians using fake grants from the Ford Foundation to the tune of N1,319,040,274.31.

“Ebonyi was arrested for defrauding his victims, comprising non-governmental organisations, NGOs, and individuals, by advertising an intervention project through his NGO (Theobarth Global Foundation), claiming that the Ford Foundation was offering a grant of $20,000,000.

“He allegedly beguiled his victims to subscribe as beneficiaries of the phony grant by asking them to pay for registration forms and clusters. Each subscriber was made to pay N1,800,000. Through this arrangement, Ebonyi allegedly raked in N1,391,040,274.31.

“His subscribers are innocent and unsuspecting Nigerians and NGOs across the country.

“Investigations by the EFCC showed that the Ford Foundation had no arrangement, grant, relationship, or business with Ebonyi.

“The Foundation pointedly disclaimed him and his NGO, stressing that it had no link whatsoever with them. The commission has also traced five properties he acquired as a result of his criminal dealings.”

While reacting through the Facebook video, the pastor said he was neither arrested by the anti-graft agency nor by any other organisation, while faulting bloggers for allegedly using his picture to chase clout.

He said, “I am here. The lion himself. I am the capacity. I am the naked wire. I am here by myself. The rumour out there is fake. It is a lie. Don’t mind the bloggers. They are just trying to use my body to make money. That is why they are using my picture to trend. No trouble. No arrest by the EFCC or any other organisation.”

In an exclusive conversation with PUNCH, EFCC spokesperson Dele Oyewale refuted Ebonyi’s claim when reached on Monday to verify the pastor’s assertion.

Oyewale noted to newsmen that the pastor had only been released on bail after his arrest.

He said, “The date of his arrest was not mentioned. You can’t see that in the statement. The date that you saw on the mugshot was the date of his arrest. He had been arrested over a long period of time, but because of the investigation that we were doing, we did not issue any statements.

“There was no date of his arrest in the statement. It is deliberate. We released him on bail. If you look at the last part of the statement, I said he was still reaching out to his victims through so many social media sites, like the video you talked about. This is what he has been doing to deceive all his victims.”