Convicted evangelical pastor Paul Mukendi has fled to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, after failing to turn himself to begin serving an eight-year prison sentence this summer, Radio-Canada has confirmed.
Two years ago, the founder of the church Parole de Vie in Quebec City was found guilty of uttering death threats and sexually and physically assaulting a 14-year-old girl.
When the Quebec Court of Appeal upheld the convictions in August, Mukendi failed to report to police.
Now, former parishioners are alleging Mukendi also committed financial exploitation, fraud and emotional manipulation.
They spoke to Radio-Canada on the condition that their names be kept confidential because they fear reprisals from Mukendi's followers if their identities are revealed. The CBC also agreed to grant them confidentiality for this reason.
Claims of fiscal exploitation
One woman the CBC has agreed to call Julia attended Mukendi's church from 2013 to 2014. Now 33, she said she was looking for a Christian community to remind her of home when she came to Canada as an international student.
But she quickly sensed that something was off.
In addition to Sunday offerings, she was expected to donate 10 per cent of her salary. There were also regular requests for money to purchase cameras, audio equipment, trips for foreign pastors and other projects.
Julia told Radio-Canada that Mukendi's followers were made to feel that they wouldn't be blessed if they didn't donate enough, a situation she compared to "religious torture."
"It's as if we use people's faith to rip them off," she said.
Another man the CBC is calling Georges, 40, also attended Mukendi's church in 2013. Originally from West Africa, he said he never knew where his donations — about $100 ever two weeks — actually went. There was no tangible charity and no visible benefit to churchgoers, he said.
"I felt oppressed financially," he told Radio-Canada. "I felt like a bank."
Both former parishioners said Mukendi talked of building a gigantic church, but nothing ever came of it.
Even though the church has been registered as a charity with the Canada Revenue Agency since 2005, it did not offer receipts for these donations. And asking for a receipt was taboo, George said.
Charities are not obliged to issue receipts, but Université Laval law professor Khashayar Haghgouyan said it does help attract more donors.
He said the main reason an organization might refuse to offer receipts is because it's unwilling to face financial scrutiny.
A "fiscal delinquent"
Mukendi's financial past is a litany of unpaid taxes and fines.
He declared bankruptcy in 2018 and hasn't paid the $43,000 he owes the Canada Revenue Agency and Revenu Quebec.
Last July, the court ordered him to pay $5,000 to be freed of his debt, but he hasn't done that yet.
In 2019, he was accused of making false tax declarations in 2015 and 2016, both for church and his personal income. He pleaded guilty and was ordered to pay a $150,000 fine.
Following this court decision, the province put his church on a list of companies that aren't admissible for public contracts for five years.
According to another young parishioner the CBC has agreed to call Joelle, Mukendi sometimes asked his followers to donate to his private corporation, Ministère Paul Mukendi Inc., an unusual step for a company, said Haghgouyan.
"There are reasons to wonder what is going on," the law professor said. He qualified Mukendi as a "fiscal delinquent," noting that his tax troubles were serious enough to be considered criminal.
Threats and intimidation for those who leave
Joelle, who is in her twenties, said Mukendi and his entourage tried to isolate her from loved ones who didn't attend his church. It got worse when she tried to leave.
"When they see that you are trying to escape, they will try to isolate you, to make you pass for the bad one, for your family to see you as someone mean," she told Radio-Canada. "They will banish you."
Georges said Mukendi and his close followers even tried to convince him that his wife was a bad influence because she didn't attend the church regularly enough.
When he resisted donating more time and money and told them he needed to discuss it first with his wife, he says they told him that he was the man and therefore the decision-maker.
"It could've led to a divorce," he said.
Escaping justice by fleeing to Congo
Since August, the pastor has been hiding from the authorities and taunting them with social media posts saying they wouldn't be able to find him because he had left the country.
He denies he is guilty of any wrongdoing and says he is being racially discriminated against by the Canadian justice system.
Mukendi's former lawyer Dominique Bertrand said she wasn't aware that he was in Congo.
"We got the news at the same time as everyone else," she said, when Radio-Canada confirmed it.
The lawyer says she had been working with him to prepare his appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada.
She said she does not condone his decision to flee the country and has asked the court to remove her name from his file.
Radio-Canada reached out to Mukendi's representative multiple times but did not get a response.