Malawi-born leaders of the Enlightened Christian Gathering Church, Shepherd and Mary Bushiri, have fled South Africa for Malawi, claiming that their lives were in danger.
The couple, whose ECG Church is based in Pretoria, said their lives have been in danger since 2015 when they first arrived in the country to set up the church which has amassed hundreds of thousands of followers and a fortune.
The millionaire evangelists were only last week freed on bail after a two-week detention over charges of fraud, money laundering and contravention of the Prevention of Organised Crime Act to the value of US$7 million.
In a statement issued on Saturday following their arrival in Malawi, the preachers expressed safety concerns and unfair court proceedings as reasons for their leaving South Africa.
According to the statement, their leaving South Africa for Malawi was a “temporary” move to wait for the South African authorities to assure them that they would have a free and fair trial in court.
The Bushiris, alongside two co-accused, are expected to return to the Pretoria Magistrates Court on Friday.
One of the escapees’ lawyers confirmed that Bushiri was in Malawi but refused to make any further comment. He was waiting for his client to instruct him on what to do next, the lawyer said.
Malawian officials denied assisting the evangelists to return home in President Lazarus Chakwera’s plane following his two-day official visit to South Africa which ended Friday evening.
Chakwera would “never allow” the couple to escape the country using his plane, Malawian Information Minister Gospel Kazako said.
The Hawks, South Africa’s crack crime busting unit which first arrested and detained the couple for two weeks, are at a loss of how the Bushiris managed to leave the country with no travel documents and in violation of their US$13,000 bail bond.