São Paulo: New (Oliver) Twists in Renascer Case?

Renascer diz que está perplexa com declarações do MP: “Renascer says it is perplexed by prosecutor’s statements.” G1/Globo gists the press release. The International Herald Tribune reported on the arrest, on currency smuggling charges in Miami, of the couple that leads the televangelist church, back in February:

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. The churches have drawn millions in the country of 185 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.

Instead of becoming a “tech evangelist,” he went from tech marketing into televangelism 1.0.

The IHT story is pretty typical of the coverage on this issue, which tends want to generalize from this particular organization — with its two TV stations — to Brazilian Protestant evangelical groups in general.

I think this is very likely to be a hasty and irresponsible generalization.

Among the fiercest critics of the Renascer “neopentecostalist” organization and its “theology of prosperity” group are other evangelical denominations, I think you might find. Paleopentecostalists, just to start with. It is quite a diverse and fractious Second Great Awakening they have going done here. In the dark, all cats are black and all holy rollers are Elmer Gantry.

Earlier this year, the couple successfully sued Globo’s Época magazine for libeling them in two 2002 article. The magazine was found by the court to have reported non-existent facts (mendacious misstatements) about the church’s financial dealings. The judge wrote:

“… As matérias publicadas pela ré além de injuriosas, são difamatórias aos olhos daqueles que não conhecem os autores. Some-se a isto o caráter mendaz de certas afirmações e tem-se o dever de indenizar claro cristalino”.

The articles published, aside from insulting, are defamantory in the eyes of those who do not know the plaintiffs. Add to this the mendacious character of certain statements and the duty to assess damages against the defendant is crystal clear.

It is a bit like the Renan Calheiros case. There are many indications that the embattled Senator from Alagoas may have had irregular dealings, and deserves to be borked.

But Veja magazine’s attempt to bork him were based on alleged irregularities for which no evidence has shown up yet. Their interpretation of the “public interest” is a lot like Globo’s: If only he be borked, its matters not whether the alleged misconduct he gets borked for is fact or fiction.

Which is an astonishing attitude to take. Imagine the Washington Post pressuring Patrick Fitzgerald to put Scooter Libby in jail for murdering Vince Foster.

I mean, I am pretty confident now that Scooter Libby did something wrong. Something very wrong. So I am glad he was found guilty. But if in the middle of his trial, in order to stir up public sentiment against him, Newsweek reported (mendaciously) that he was suspected of killing Vince Foster, he should by all means sue the bastards for libel.

Classic Brazilian lynch-mob journalism, updated for the Internet age. “It was in the public interest for the public to be induced to believe false, incriminating information about the defendant because the defendant really does deserve to be incriminated.”
The Renascer group, meanwhile — you really need to watch some of their programming here on NET Cable TV to get an idea of what these folks are about — is now accused by state prosecutors of running social assistance programs as a front for money-laundering and donation-wrangling.

In the newsreel above, you see what I believe is a Renascer preacher (I have not nailed that down definitively yet, though, so forgive me if I am wrong) invoking the biblical story of David and Goliath to dramatize the “martyrdom” of the “Apostle” and the “Bishop,” the couple who lead the “theology of prosperity”-oriented religious group. I watch this stuff and tend to get a nasty little tickle of Jonestown deja vu in the back of mind.

A Renascer negou a acusação, apresentada pelo Ministério Público, de que as crianças atendidas na instituição de Heliópolis, na Zona Sul, têm que trabalhar para garantir assistência. “O trabalho infantil denunciado limita-se a arrumar a cama.

Renascer denied the accusation, presented by the Public Ministry, that children receiving social assistance in Heliópolis, in the Southern District, have to work for the assistance they receive. “The child labor denounced here is limited to the making of beds.”

De acordo com o Ministério Público, as entidades que cuidam de crianças recebiam recursos insuficientes para manutenção e as crianças tinham de trabalhar para ser atendidas. “Se algum dinheiro era colocado nestas entidades, era uma quantia ínfima”, disse. Uma diretora chegou a ser levada à delegacia porque a unidade de Franco da Rocha apresentava feijão com data de validade vencida, diz a Promotoria.

According to the Public Ministry, the foundations that care for children do not receive enough funds to sustain their programs, and children have to work in exchange for services. “If any money actually goes into these organizations, it is pittance,” the prosecutor said. A director of one such program was once taken down to the precinct between the Franco da Rocha unit was serving beans whose serve-by date had expired, said the prosecutor’s office.

“Nós chegamos à conclusão de que eles, apesar de alegarem que recebem doações de fiéis para cuidar de entidades assistenciais, não fazem nada disso. As entidades estão em situação triste de degradação. A conclusão da promotoria é que o dinheiro que eles recebem dos fiéis também serve para engordar o patrimônio pessoal dos Hernandes. As instituições servem como pano de fundo para aumentar o valor da arrecadação”, disse Mendroni.

“We concluded that although they claim they receive donations from the faithful to sustain social services programs, they do nothing of the sort. The organizations are in a state of sad neglect. This office concluded that the money they get from donations is used to fatten up the personal wealth of the Hernandes. These institutions serve as [Potemkin Village] that helps to keep donations coming in,” Mendroni said.

As visitas às três entidades foram realizadas em 10 de outubro. Os donos da Renascer, Estevam e Sônia Hernandes, disseram em depoimento ao Ministério Público que o dinheiro arrecadado dos fiéis é utilizado para manutenção das três entidades assistenciais. As diligências foram determinadas dentro de um dos dois processos de lavagem de dinheiro que a família Hernandes responde à Justiça brasileira.

Three programs were visited on October 10. Estevam and Sônia Hernandes, who head the church, said in a sworn statement to prosecutors that the money collected from the faithful is used to sustain the three programs. The inspection was ordered in one of two money-laundering cases the Hernandes face in Brazilian courts.

O promotor Mendroni afirma que apenas uma das empresas da Renascer movimentou R$ 46 milhões nos últimos anos. Para ele, a situação física das entidades demonstra que elas recebem muito pouco desse dinheiro.

Mendroni says that just one of Renascer’s business ventures moved R$46 million in recent years. In his view, the physical situation of the programs shows that they are receiving very little of this money.

Mendroni afirma que a intenção inicial do MP ao realizar as diligências era “fazer prova” a favor da Renascer, ou seja, mostrar que o dinheiro arrecadado realmente ia para as entidades. No entanto, a realidade mostrou o contrário.

Mendroni says that his office’s initial intention, with these inspections, was to “gather evidence” in Renascer’s favor, that is, to prove that the money collected was really going to the program. But in fact, the inspections proved the opposite.

Nas diligências, os policiais do GOE encontraram planilhas que demonstram que as unidades têm arrecadação própria e devem atingir metas. “Estas entidades têm arrecadação própria que não tem a ver com aquela dos fiéis”, disse Mendroni.

In their inspections, police offers from GOE found spreadsheets that showed that the programs have their own sources of income and are required to achieve revenue goals. “They have their own revenues that have nothing to do with donations from the faithful,” Mendroni said.

Medroni is a vengeful man, the church says.

A nota afirma também que o promotor Marcelo Mendroni agiu por “ressentimento”, porque está sendo processado pela Renascer. E acusa o Grupo de Operações Táticas (GOE) de entrar fortemente armado nas instituições – acusação que os policiais negaram durante a entrevista.

The statement from the church also charges that Mendroni acted out of “resentment” because Renascer is suing him. And it accuses the Tactical Operations Group (GOE) [sic] from entering the program facilities heavily armed — an accusation that the police denied during the press conference.

You would think that the acronym for that group would be GOT, given its name.

In fact, GOE stands for the Grupo de Operações Especiais (“special operations group”) of the São Paulo state judicial police.

Which does also, I hink, have a unit called the GOT, a Group dedicated to Operations, Tactical.

The question now is which of those groups participated in the action reported on here?

(Ecce Globo.)

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