Zimbabwe bishop arrested on bank fraud charges

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The Bishop of Manicaland has been arrested for corruption, the Harare Herald reports. The government-backed newspaper stated the Rt. Rev. Erick Ruwona was arrested on 14 January 2020 in Mutare and appeared before the court today to answer charges of fraud.

Bishop Ruwona is accused of applying for a $100,000 loan in 2016 from Agribank on behalf of the diocese to finance a building project at St Catherine’s Girls High School in Rusape and to purchase an automobile for the bishop. Church land was offered to the bank as collateral, however the land was mortgaged without the knowledge or permission of the diocesan standing committee. The bishop and his accomplices are accused of pocketing the loan proceeds.

A second count of bank fraud was leveled against the bishop for taking out a second loan from Agribank for $350,000 using church property as collateral, and then stealing the loan proceeds. The third count alleges the bishop and his confederates in the diocesan offices overdrew the diocese’s bank account at Agribank by $250,000 and stole the money.

The Herald reported Bishop Ruwona came to the attention of the Anti-Corruption Commission after parents of children attending church run schools complained that the bishop was requiring them to purchase Bibles from the diocese for $800 each. Students who did not pay the Bible fee — a charge above and beyond the normal school tuition and fees — were denied admission.

In September 2018 Bishop Ruwona was arrested by police after the wardens of St Agnes Church in Chikanga, Mutare alleged the bishop and diocesan officials had stolen a church truck.  The state was not able to prove a case of theft against the bishop and his co-defendants and the case was dismissed. 

In March 2019 lay leaders in the diocese presented a petition of no confidence in the bishop, citing alleged financial improprieties and un-Christian conduct and called for him to resign. The ongoing fight, which saw the bishop excommunicate the bulk of one congregation for defying his authority in 2017 — only to have the Archbishop of the Church of the Province of Central Africa rescind the action in 2018 — comes amidst difficult financial times for the diocese with allegations clergy stipends are not being paid properly and donations to the diocese being used for improper purposes.