A billionaire pastor, who is to face trial in South Africa for alleged fraud and money laundering, has fled the country under mysterious circumstances, the BBC has reported.
The Pentecostal pastor, Shepherd Bushiri, popularly known as Major 1, returned with his wife, Mary, to his home country, Malawi, after he was granted bail earlier this month, the report said.
Mr Bushiri claimed there had been attempts on his life. He accused the South African authorities of not providing him with any protection, the BBC said.
“Our coming to Malawi, hence, is a tactical withdrawal from the Republic of South Africa solely meant to preserve our lives,” he said in a statement posted, Saturday, on his Facebook page.
The South African authorities are wondering how Mr Bushiri was able to beat immigration officials to escape from the country.
“There had been allegations that Mr Bushiri fled on Malawi’s presidential jet with President Lazarus Chakwera – something that has been denied by Mr Chakwera’s office,” the BBC said in the report.
There are fears that the incident could lead to a diplomatic row between South Africa and Malawi.
South Africa’s Justice Minister, Ronald Lamola, according to the BBC report, said the government would not hesitate to move to extradite fugitives.
Malawi’s Foreign Affairs minister Eisenhower Mkaka stated his government’s position.
“He told the BBC’s Nomsa Maseko that it is the duty of the government to protect all Malawians but added that President Chakwera is a staunch advocate of the rule of law and that all diplomatic channels will remain open,” the report said.
Mr Bushiri, who runs the Enlightened Christian Gathering, is described as a controversial preacher and one of the richest religious leaders in Africa.
He reportedly claimed to have cured people of HIV and restored sight to the blind.The BBC said the pastor, accused alongside his wife and three others, was arraigned before a magistrate in Pretoria, South Africa, on October 21.
His trial is expected to start in May 2021.