Updated May 27, 2019
Sun Myung Moon invested hundreds of millions of dollars in South America – what was the result?
This page presents extracts from various articles and books detailing Sun Myung Moon’s activities in South America.
extracts from a Washington Post article dated August 28, 1983
Moon’s ‘Cause’ Takes Aim At Communism in Americas
By Joanne Omang
An arm of the Rev. Sun Myung Moon’s Unification Church, a group called “Causa,” or “cause” in Spanish, is pumping millions of dollars into an anti-communist organizing effort throughout the United States and in much of Central and South America.
Offering free seminars, international trips and conferences around the region to decision makers, journalists and local leaders, Causa International and its subsidiary, Causa USA, have also invested in newspapers and printing companies and in a Uruguayan bank, broadcasting station and other businesses.
The group’s president is retired South Korean Col. Bo Hi Pak, chief aide to Moon, and its executive director is Warren S. Richardson, formerly chief counsel to the Liberty Lobby. President Reagan nominated Richardson to be an assistant secretary in the Department of Health and Human Services in 1981, but Richardson withdrew amid charges that the Liberty Lobby is racist and anti-Semitic.
Causa seeks to promote a philosophy called “God-ism,” which Causa officials say is an alternative set of ideas for people likely to be tempted by communism. Although usually – but not always – openly financed and led by followers of Moon, Causa claims to be completely ecumenical and to have plans to put non-members of the Unification Church in leadership jobs.
Causa started as the Confederation of Associations for the Unity of the Societies of the Americas (CAUSA), but the original emphasis on the Americas soon proved too narrow. There was so much interest in Europe and other parts of the world that the original name was dropped and just the acronym retained, Causa USA director Joe A. Tully said.
Founded in New York in 1980, Causa has had a rocky time in Brazil, where only police intervention prevented mobs from destroying Unification churches in nine cities; and in Honduras and El Salvador, where Roman Catholic Church leaders denounced Causa as anti-Christian for its links to Moon.
But in Uruguay, Paraguay and Guatemala and in 18 other nations, Causa literature says, Causa operations are thriving despite opposition from the Catholic Church, to which the vast majority of Latin Americans belong.
Causa apparently has had its greatest success in Uruguay. In March, 1981, Pak met in Montevideo, the capital, with top government officials, including then-President Aparicio Mendez, the vice president and the interior minister. Causa then founded a newspaper, Noticias del Uruguay, and won the right in a secret auction to build a casino and a luxury hotel, according to later newspaper accounts.
A minor scandal erupted in the Uruguayan press that summer over the award of the casino rights, which violated Uruguayan gambling laws. According to the Council on Hemispheric Affairs (COHA) newsletter of Nov. 3, 1981, the new president, Gregorio Alvarez, defended the award to Causa and said, “With respect to the fight against communism, it is obvious that we think alike.”
By the end of 1981, Causa was authorized to set up an FM and medium-wave radio station in Canelones for broadcast to Montevideo and launched a second newspaper, Ultimas Noticias, in September. It also bought the largest publishing house in Uruguay, Editorial Polo; a restaurant and a meat-packing plant; and it now owns the country’s biggest luxury hotel, the Victoria Plaza, according to The Latin American Newsletter of Jan. 29, 1982.
In 1982, Causa won a controlling interest of the Banco de Credito, Uruguay’s third-largest national bank, and press reports said Causa had put $50 million into the bank purchase effort.
“They bought newspapers, they bought real estate, they bought generals, they bought out the country,” said a Reagan administration official who was there at the time. “There was a big stink about it.”
On April 8, 1983 Honduras’ Roman Catholic Conference of Bishops denounced Causa and the Unification Church, issuing a pastoral letter prohibiting priests and lay workers and “anyone who wishes to remain Catholic” from taking part or encouraging any involvement in Causa or any other Unification Church operation.
The Unification Church, the letter said, is “truly anti-Christian” and produces “a species of material and spiritual slavery.”
“It is very probable that until now, Causa has not here manifested its moral and religious danger. But given its tactics, when this happens it could be too late for many,” the bishops’ letter said.
“The Catholic church was so powerful it saved us,” said a leading industrialist in San Pedro Sula. “If it hadn’t been for them, the Moonies would own Honduras by now.”
Part 1 “The Moonies – A Power in the Service of Anti-communism,”
Jean-Francois Boyer and Alejandro Alem
Guardian, February, 24, 1985, pp. 12-13,
Part 2 “Moon in Latin America: Building the Bases of a World Organisation,”
Guardian, March 3, 1985, pp. 12-14.
Jean-Francois Boyer and Alejandro Alem conclude a two-part report
The Unification Church, or as it is more commonly known, the “Moonie sect”, is also a vast industrial and financial empire with ramifications in Latin America where it is in the process of building up an information network for winning the hearts and minds of people.
Colonel Bo Hi Pak, a former South Korean army officer who is now the Rev. Moon’s righthand man, was given the job of touring Latin America setting up contacts and recruiting newsmen for the Unification Church’s Spanish-language newspaper, Noticias del Mundo and promoting its anticommunist international, Causa.
THE last seminar of Colonel Bo Hi Pak’s 1981 swing through Latin America took place at Rio de Janeiro’s Hotel Othon facing Copacabana beach. No local bigwig took part in the proceedings. For, unlike in other countries of the region, Moon put in a much bigger effort promoting his Unification Church here than in strengthening his political organisation. In this summer of 1981, Moon had thousands of followers spread through 120 urban centres, including all the state capitals. Exploiting the Brazilian people’s deeply felt, confused and eclectic religiousness, the Unification Church has made a breakthrough here unmatched anywhere else in Latin America.
True, the sect is favourably viewed by some officers in the army, the Defence College and the political police (their names were found among the list of persons invited to the Causa’s 1984 Pan-American seminar in Montevideo). Dairo Vicente Ferraboli, a leader of the Unification Church, told the Rio Grande do Sul police in September 1981 that Sao Paolo’s governor, Paulo Maluf, who lost to Tancredo Neves in the presidential elections in January 1985, attended several dinners offered by the sect. But all this has more to do with private contacts and commitments than with a concerted strategy as in Uruguay or Bolivia.
Nevertheless, it is worth mentioning that the keynote speaker at the Copacabana seminar was Paul Perry, whom the magazine Causa quite simply describes as “professor”. Alfredo Mingolla, an Argentine secret service operative, says, however, that he met Perry in the Causa offices and that he is one of the four Moonies who collaborated with General Garcia Meza, the ousted Bolivian leader.
Given this situation, it appears that Julian Safi (the boss of Montevideo’s daily Ultimas Noticias and the instrument of Moonie penetration in Latin America) was not given an isolated mission. His first concern was to establish a big popular newspaper in Montevideo on which Causa’s propaganda could rely when necessary. Ultimas Noticias, a four-colour tabloid printed on modern presses, came into being on September 18, 1981. It was an ambitious investment in these crisis-ridden times. The news staff consisted of professional journalists and was reasonably pluralist.
Sold at an unbeatably competitive price, Ultimas Noticias is aimed at the mass readership — trivial news items on the front page, substantial sports coverage and neutral political reporting. The newspaper appears to be objective if you do not read the editorials which are viciously anticommunist and are written by Segundo Flores, whose greatest claim to glory is that he is the father-in-law of General Alvarez, the Uruguayan President, and an academic, José Glavez. Two men see to it that the newspaper hews to its policy line. They are Carlos Estellano, who until a few months before the November 1984 elections was adviser to the government’s public relations office, and Omar Piva, an old friend of Safi’s who also came from the Manini Rios press group.
“The newspaper’s editorial policy,” explained Piva, “is anticommunist at the international level. It is the only discipline which distinguishes us … Nationally, it is independent, supporting none of the parties running in the 1984 elections. The newspaper could take up leftwing, moderate but leftwing, not necessarily rightwing positions. The only condition we set ourselves is to be anticommunist.”
Many of the articles are supplied by the (Unification Church-owned) Washington Times and Noticias del Mundo, to which Ultimas Noticias is affiliated . . . and they deal with the main topics addressed by Causa, the Pentagon and the militants of the doctrine of national security. In three years Ultimas Noticias has become Uruguay’s third biggest newspaper.
It is printed by Impresora Polo, another holding acquired by Moon’s representative Julian Safi. Modernising the plant alone cost $1.5 million. Today the printing establishment turns out 70 per cent of the country’s periodical publications and 15 per cent of its books.
Most of Causa International’s Spanish-language brochures are printed here, as well as certain “friendly” magazines such as El Soldado, the monthly published by the Military Studies Centre. But business being business, a good many political magazines of the leftwing opposition and the centre were also printed at the Impresora Polo plant until November 1984. Stephen Boyd, a Unification Church missionary and Causa International’s local representative, explained this apparent contradiction: “The aim of the businesses owned by the movement is to support not only Causa, but also the 150 organisations (of the movement) throughout the world. So in Uruguay there are various businesses which could give us a hand in our work at the international level.”
It is doubtless with this in view that the movement has provided itself with two very useful instruments — a bank and a big hotel for hosting conferences — in Uruguay which is pivotally sandwiched between the Brazilian and Argentine giants.
By making a succession of small share purchases between November 1982 and February 1983, Safi acquired control of Uruguay’s third largest bank, El Banco de Credito. The money used for the takeover had already been deposited in the bank. Apart from Safi, the new shareholders — Mrs Elena Decker and Cecilia Fraga — were quite unknown to banking circles. Uruguayan laws at the time set no conditions on the acquisition of a national bank by foreigners. All the more so as the bank’s new shareholders obtained — through an offshore bank, Kami Ltd based in Grand Cayman island — a loan of $63 million which was placed as surety in the Central Bank for the purchase by this bank of a portfolio of high-risk shares offered by the Banco de Credito
Confronted by such an avalanche of dollars, the press and some financial circles in Uruguay began wondering whether “Moon wanted to buy Uruguay”. No matter, the operation proceeded. The movement needed a big hotel combined with a convention centre which could accommodate the various Causa seminars. So Julian Safi bought up the four-star Victoria Plaza, Montevideo’s only luxury hotel, and immediately planned to turn it into a hotel complex unique in Latin America — two towers linked together by a bridge 100 metres up, 2,500 rooms and a conference room to hold 1,200 persons. The estimated cost was $8 million, and the justification put forward was that it would create 2,000 jobs in a country affected by the crisis and turn Montevideo into an international convention centre.
There remained one problem to settle: the second tower was to be built on the site of an official building listed by the municipality as a historic monument. This was solved by swapping it with another building having the same features — in this case, the former headquarters of Manini Rios’s newspapers which had been bought up by Safi — and declaring the project a matter of national interest. This was done in September 1983. Overriding objections by architects and various environment protection groups, the military government signed the decree authorising the operation.
Questioned on the subject, General Alvarez pointed out at the time that freedom of worship was also applicable to the Unification Church: “When it comes to combating communism, it’s obvious we think alike.” At the end of September 1984 General Rapela, the Interior Minister, when asked whether the Unification Movement and the military government saw eye-to-eye on ideological grounds, replied: “Ideology? But, of course. That’s why we have given it the support and backing we extend to all international activities having affinities with our political branch . . .; (moreover) these are people who work for the good of the country, they create jobs and leave their profits behind.”
Indeed? The fact remains that all the estimates agree that in four years Moon had invested $100 million in Uruguay — equal to one tenth of the country’s exports. He is someone who matters.
Contrary to what he has said, Julian Safi is not the exclusive depositary in Uruguay of the Rev. Moon’s trust and power. This devout Catholic director of Ultimas Noticias, who is of Lebanese Maronite origin (he has been decorated with the Order of the Cedar), is closely “assisted” by the sect’s hard core: Mrs Ingrid Lindeman, originally a missionary, is director of the Victoria Plaza and probably holds the Banco de Credito’s Lindomar shares. Notarised documents have shown that her husband, Werner, is co-owner, with Safi, of Impresora Polo. Finally, there is a third Uruguayan who plays an obvious role here. He is Stephen Boyd, head of the Unification Church in Uruguay, who has free access any time of the day or night to the Victoria Plaza and the offices of Ultimas Noticias.
Boyd, Moon’s ideologue in Uruguay and Causa’s kingpin, keeps tirelessly discovering, canvassing, assembling and training cadres through whom the organisation spreads its influence — politicians, businessmen, journalists, student leaders, professional people in hi-tech areas (especially, information technology) . . . In three years he has gathered together some 300 potential opinion leaders in the country.
Holding Causa’s first Pan-American congress in Montevideo in February 1984 confirmed his success. Chaired by Bo Hi Pak, the congress brought together some 400 delegates and observers from all over America, Europe and Asia, in addition to 58 Uruguayan sympathisers of Causa. Among the last were several executive electors from the two big traditional Blanco and Colorado parties, a number of persons linked to the dictatorship’s repressive machinery, including Dolcey Britos, the doctor-cum-psychologist accused by (concert pianist) Miguel Angel Estrella of having supervised the torture at the Libertad penitentiary, and Jorge Guldenzoph, a young Interior Ministry official who is secretary of Causa Uruguay. Ten years ago Guldenzoph was still a student leader of the . . . Communist Youth movement when, he says, he “forswore Marxism”.
The seminar’s guest list shows, however, that Causa’s strategic concerns had shifted from the Southern Cone to Central America. Proof of that was the presence of the Salvadoran Colonel Domingo Monterosa, former commander of the 3rd San Miguel brigade and a specialist in psychological warfare, and Steadman Fagoth, head of the anti-Sandinista Miskito guerrilla movement, along with two retired American generals involved, directly or indirectly, in the aid programme to the Honduras-based anticommunist National Democratic Front (FDN) — General Robert Richardson III, an active member of the World Anticommunist League, and General Ed Woellner, president of Causa USA, director of the United Global Strategy Council, a right-wing Republican Party think-tank which is campaigning to put more teeth into President Reagan’s Central American policy.
Causa’s determination to support the hawks in Reagan’s team was clearly shown by its activities in Honduras during 1981 and 1982 when the US Army arrived there in strength. Causa first invited some ten leading Honduran figures on an all-expenses paid visit to South Korea, where they met Moon. Among them was the press secretary of the office of the Honduran President and the ambassador who later succeeded him in the job. Both of them are today pillars of Causa Latin America. These same Hondurans next organised a four-day seminar on anticommunism at San Pedro Sula for 1,000 political cadres, businessmen and journalists.
Among them was a key figure who took part in the Montevideo Pan-American congress — Mario Belot, president of the Honduran Chamber of Commerce and the Association of Stock Breeders and Farmers (APROH), a rightwing organisation whose membership consisted of all of the country’s influential businessmen and politicians under the presidency of General Gustavo Alvarez, commander-in-chief of the armed forces until March 31, last year.
A strongman in a strong-armed democracy and in favour of large-scale US intervention in Central America, General Alvarez was on sufficiently good terms with Causa for Bo Hi Pak to kick in $50,000 when APROH was set up in 1983. The Honduran bishops’ sharp reaction to the Unification Church’s entry into the country forced the general to return the money eight months after it was received. Causa’s Central American obsession led it to organise in 1983 a fact-finding tour for some 100 American and European journalists, who were treated to special interviews with former Guatemalan President General Rios Montt and Edgar Chomorro, member of the FDN leadership, on the border between Honduras and Nicaragua.
The Moonies’ support for the American right does not date from the crisis in Central America. On September 13, 1974, a few months before the Vietnam debacle, 13 US senators and representatives (including a few leading lights of the “moral majority” like John Hunt) lent their patronage to a conference by Rev. Sun Myung Moon on the subject “America in the divine providence” . . . Five weeks before that the Unification Church mustered its troops for a last-ditch defence of Richard Nixon, who in the end quit on August 8 . . .
In 1980 Moon discovered another American cause. His News World conducted an all-out campaign on behalf of Ronald Reagan right from the primaries . . . On March 1, 1982, the dummy issue of the Washington Times was sent to 5,000 opinion-makers in the District of Columbia. The aim was to counter the Washington Post’s de facto monopoly and become the voice of US conservatism. In a year it obtained exclusive interviews with Mrs Jeane Kirkpatrick (then US ambassador to the UN), Richard Nixon, CIA director William Casey, Defence Secretary Caspar Weinberger and Reagan himself.
The Washington Times is a key pawn in the Moonie strategy. To the point that the Unification Church has poured $150 million into it to make good a continuing deficit, for the newspaper’s circulation has failed to go over the 100,000 mark, whereas it has just launched a Californian edition and is planning to go after the markets in Chicago and Dallas . . .
Moon’s press group, Time-Tribune Corporation, and the Washington Times are also funding another organisation founded by Moon, the World Conference on Communications Media which since 1978 has been trying “to inspire a crusade (. . .) so that the media may contribute to establishing a lasting peace and avert the destruction of mankind’’.
Since it was founded the World Conference on Communications Media has thrown open its forum to speakers such as former Colombian President Miguel Pastrana Borrero, former South Vietnamese Prime Minister General N’Guyen Cao Ky, the leader of the World Anticommunist League General John Singlaub, and Jacques Soustelle (of France) who was co-director of the Conference in Cartagena, Colombia, in 1983.
For the past two years, many French people have been taking part in meetings organised by the Unification Church. In 1982, Jean-Francois Revel (author and former editor of the news magazine L’Express) took part in the fifth World Conference on the Media alongside Moon and Bo Hi Pak. He spoke in defence of a conception of the ideological struggle against the USSR, but it was fairly different from the one advocated by the Moonie movement.
Men with such differing political and philosophical sympathies as Soustelle, Revel, Georges Suffert and Yacinthe Santoni obviously cannot be regarded as having any sympathies for the Moonie sect. Their participation in the great anticommunist concert orchestrated over the past four years by Causa and the Unification Church shows to what extent the movement’s American and Korean strategists have succeeded in exploiting subjects and finding a language capable of reaching the world’s intelligentsia, and in particular the elite of the former and the new right.
(From Le Monde Diplomatique, February 1985 issue)
Chicago Tribune December 8, 1994 by Kerry Luft
It is difficult to gauge the size of the group’s investments. Uruguay is known for the secrecy of its banking system, which has been compared to Switzerland’s. The ownerships of many companies are hidden in anonymous societies, similar to blind trusts.
David Bromley, a Virginia Commonwealth University sociologist specializing in religious movements, [said]. “(Moon) wants to be able to move money around without being tracked, because there are lots of people out there trying to track him.” …
“There’s no question that he has a lot of money and has substantial investments in Korea that made him a wealthy individual in his own right,” said Bromley, co-author of a book on Moon’s church in America.
“Most churches are founded and then create an economic base,” he added. “He has created an economic base first to fund his church, and that’s what causes some suspicion.”
Members of the Unification Church first came to Uruguay in the 1970s as part of a worldwide proselytizing and recruitment program. That has been largely a failure; church membership in Uruguay hovers around 500, and attendance at worship services in Montevideo rarely tops 100, the church source said.
But in mid-1981, money started arriving.
From the “Reputations: Sun Myung Moon, Emperor of the Universe” documentary made by the BBC in 2000.
Narrator: “Moon had spent many millions supporting Republican causes, but the Reagan administration declined to pardon him for his tax offence.”
Michael Hershman (US Congressional Investigator): “Moon was extremely bitter. [He was in jail in Danbury for 11 months.] Moon decided that he could better grow his organization, better grow his influence, outside our shores.”
Narrator: “In poor Uruguay the army had won a wasting war with Tupamaros guerrillas. The capital, Montevideo, was an off-shore banking center were rich foreigners could hide their cash. For Moon it held other attractions too.”
Michael Hershman: “A friendly legal environment. That is laws and regulations that were not as well developed as here in the United States. A fairly uneducated and poor population who was ready to accept a message of anyone who made promises for a better life.”
Narrator: “Moon called Uruguay his oasis. Today he owns newspapers and sponsors radio programmes that preach family values. As Moon sees it, if only the world would listen, all its problems … would simply vanish.” … “By the late 1980s Moon owned so much property in Montevideo that locals wryly renamed it ‘Moontevideo’. Moonies say that this palatial building was going to be his home, his Latin American sanctuary. Instead he chose a lush resort on the ocean [at Punta del Este], and a ranch by a river where he could fish. Here he hoped to find peace. …
Moon built Uruguay’s first luxury hotel [The Victoria Plaza Hotel]. He also bought a bank [Banco de Credito]. On one occasion bank employees claimed that 4,000 Japanese Moonies had suddenly showed up, depositing millions of dollars in cash.”
Juan Ramos (Bank Worker’s Association): “The money still had the U.S. Federal Reserve band around it. More than $80 million was deposited over the course of a week.”
Hot Money and the Politics of Debt (1987, 1994, 2004) pages 152-162
by R.T. Naylor, professor, economics, McGill University and the author of many books, including Economic Warfare: Sanctions, Embargo Busting, and Their Human Cost, and Bankers, Bagmen, and Bandits: Business and Politics in the Age of Greed.
“In the US the Moon cult prospered. Indeed, the vigor with which the cult expanded in the US may not be completely unrelated to problems that befell it in South Korea.
In 1977, one year after the notorious “Koreagate” scandal in the US, the South Korean regime decided to disassociate itself partially from the sect, which had become somewhat of an embarrassment.
The South Korean authorities leveled a number of charges of fiscal fraud against the management of Moonie-controlled enterprises.
The sect responded by creating the Unification Church International… The target was the Diplomat National Bank of Washington. The sect and the Korean CIA (which used the bank as a conduit for covert funding) eventually attracted 53% of the stock – and the attention of American bank regulators over attempts to hide ownership and over apparent infractions of lending regulations.
Through Diplomat National Bank the Moonies broke into the newspaper business in the US and around the world…The Moonies’ penetration of Central and South America thereafter assumed a new energy. …
Despite such successes abroad and President Reagan’s endorsement at home, the Moon organization had its problems. Like the Vatican’s a decade and a half earlier, its tax-free status was being threatened. In 1981 the New York State Supreme Court ruled it more a business than a church, hardly a startling finding given that annual gross revenues from Moonie global businesses were then apparently topping $500 million. The township in which much of Moonie property was located sued for back taxes, and other lawsuits followed. In 1982, Moon was personally convicted of tax fraud, perjury, conspiracy involving false documents, and obstruction of justice.
While Moon’s lawyers appealed the verdict and kept the case before the courts for another two years, danger signals prompted the “church” to move its financial headquarters to more hospitable climes. Their choice proved to be that of the Latin America headquarters of Lucio Gelli’s P-2, and one of the principle havens through which Opus Dei’s protege Ruiz Mateo had moved money spirited out of Spain.
Uruguay is often referred to as the Switzerland of the Americas… Granted, Uruguay’s political violence in the 1960’s and 1970’s, its long and only recently altered status as a military dictatorship, and its prostrate economy are remarkably un-Swiss. But it does have a freewheeling banking system that operated as a laundromat for drug money and is still the most important South American depository for flight capital and tax evaders’ funds.
Hot money has long sought sanctuary in Uruguay’s capital of Montevideo – or Moon-tevideo, as it is now sometimes called. Uruguay was a major American stop on the escape route Licio Gelli created for Fascist family fortunes escaping Italy after the war, and many a European family gold hoard wound up in exile there…Uruguay offers bank secrecy laws sufficiently appealing that, in 1971, the US narcotics bureau found Uruguay to be a pivot of financial operations associated with the French Connection heroin route. But Uruguay blossomed as a peekaboo financial center after a military coup in 1973.
The coup followed a sharp deterioration of economic circumstances in the 1960’s and a civil war between the army and the Tupamaros urban guerrilla organization. The polarization provided an opportunity for major French heroin traffickers in Uruguay, who bought the protection of Uruguayan military intelligence by infiltrating the Tupamaros, promising them arms while informing the Uruguayan military about their activities… Uruguay became a major American center for tourism and gambling and a refuge for fiscal flight capital.
This was a hot-money bonanza too rich to be ignored. Between 1973 and 1983…twenty of Uruguay’s twenty-two banks fell into the hands of foreign investors…
After the crisis of 1981, virtually all Uruguayan banks were forced to borrow from the central bank and to unload bad debts on the public sector. The central bank, in the guise of bolstering the capital of weak banks, intermediated the sale of local institutions to foreign financiers, among them the indomitable Reverend Sun Myung Moon.
The local Moonie chief, Julian Safi, quietly bought up small blocks of stock in the Banco de Credito, the third largest in the country, using funds provided through Kami Ltd, a Moonie-controlled Cayman Islands bank that Bo Hi Pak had established for the sacred purpose of keeping transfers from the prying eyes of the fiscal authorities.
The context and timing were ideal. On the one hand, the financial crisis in Uruguay made the government keen to attract foreign capital, particularly to a banking system that generated so much foreign exchange. If that foreign capital came with an ideological bent with which the military government felt highly sympathetic, so much the better. President and former commander in chief Gregorio Alvarez (a member of Gelli’s P-2) defended the Moonie encroachment as a matter of religious freedom. “Also, we share their ideas as people involved in the struggle against communism.” As the Moonies were under siege elsewhere, particularly by the American tax authorities, and as they had targeted the Americas, particularly the southern parts under military dictatorship, for intensive proselytizing, Uruguay was the ideal financial headquarters.
Eschewing evangelism to avoid conflict with the local church hierarchy, they concentrated their Uruguayan activities on making money and influencing the right people. By 1983 it was estimated that Moonie investments in Uruguay totaled about $100 million. They had acquired the third-largest bank, the largest hotel, and local distribution facilities for Moonie-produced goods from all over the world; French jewelry, canned tuna, porcelain vases from Taiwan, and Korean ginseng and weapons. They also owned two local printing companies and prime real estate. In 1983 they began planning a new forty-one-story hotel and conference center. The military government contributed a declaration that the hotel complex was of “national interest” and therefore exempt from import duties. The military also assisted them with tax breaks and public advertising revenues in their takeover and operation of one of the three local newspapers.
The Moonies reciprocated by conducting pro military and anti-“Communist” propaganda, just when the Uruguayan population was demanding, sometimes in mass street demonstrations, democratization of political institutions; the military government responded with more repression.”
Consortium News, 1998 by Samuel Blixen
(compiled from two of his articles – links below)
“Rev. Sun Myung Moon first put down roots in Uruguay during the 12-year reign of right-wing military dictators who seized power in 1973. During the 1970s, the anti-communist South Korean religious figure also cultivated close relations with military dictators in Argentina, Paraguay and Chile. Moon reportedly ingratiated himself to the juntas by assisting the military regimes arrange arms purchases and by funnelling money to allied right-wing organizations.
Even in those early years, government investigators recognized that one key to Moon’s success was the surreptitious use of his followers to smuggle money across borders. A 1978 U.S. congressional investigative report found that Moon’s followers had transported large sums of cash into the United States in violation of U.S. currency statutes. …
Moon has invested heavily in media and politics in both North and South America.
In the early 1980s, Moon’s organization was flush with cash. In 1982, Moon launched The Washington Times, a right-wing daily which has cost Moon an estimated $100 million a year in losses. But the newspaper gave Moon’s backers access to the highest levels of the Reagan-Bush administrations and the ability to influence public debate. Moon was a major conservative funder in the United States.
In 1983, back in Uruguay, Moon expanded his South American holdings by purchasing Banco de Credito, one of Montevideo’s leading banks. The price tag was $52 million. Uruguay’s military authorities awarded Moon a quick $8 million profit by buying back $60 million in uncollectible loans from the bank.
When democracy was restored in Uruguay in 1985, Moon’s operations survived by keeping close ties to still-influential military officers and to conservative civilian politicians. They helped Moon fend off opposition from civilian president Julio Maria Sanguinetti and other critics.
Later, Opus Dei, a right-wing international Catholic organization, joined in criticizing Moon’s cult-like church. The Unification Church considers Jesus a failed messiah and Moon the new Chosen One who is destined to rule a one-world theocracy…
But Moon’s deep roots in Uruguayan politics and business proved strong enough to withstand his critics. His bank brushed aside nettlesome questions about money-laundering and other financial irregularities. Moon’s allies – and Uruguay’s secrecy laws – prevented even the powerful Opus Dei from forcing the bank’s financial records into public view.
Through the 1980s, Moon continued to expand his Uruguayan holdings. He bought the elegant-but-faded Hotel Victoria, the Últimas Noticias newspaper, a travel agency and vast tracts of real estate. His big investments in the hotel and newspaper, however, never generated significant profits. The newspaper never achieved strong circulation or advertising revenues. Despite an upgrading to five-star status, the Hotel Victoria never flourished either.
Finally, in 1993, Uruguayan Central Bank president Ramon Diaz pushed the long-whispered allegations against Moon’s bank into the parliamentary record. Diaz accused Banco de Credito of violating financial rules, operating at a constant loss, practicing dubious credit policies with insolvent customers and holding inadequate cash reserves.
Diaz demanded that the bank add $30 million in capital within 48 hours or face government intervention. Within hours, panicked customers pulled $10 million in deposits out of the bank. Diaz’s goal of forcing Moon to sell the bank seemed within reach. One senator claimed that Diaz hoped an Argentine investment group would step in and take over the bank.
Moon proved, however, that his seemingly bottomless well of cash could fill the bank’s vaults in a crisis. Before the 48-hour deadline, Moon transferred $30 million into the ailing bank and retained control.
Since then, Moon’s influence has continued to grow in Uruguay, although Banco de Credito continues to suffer chronic financial troubles.
Uruguay’s bank secrecy laws and Moon’s political clout have spared his operations from significant legal action. But the money laundry has drawn periodic attention from government and other investigators in recent years.
In 1996, for instance, the Uruguayan bank employees union blew the whistle on one scheme in which some 4,200 female Japanese followers of Moon allegedly walked into the Moon-controlled Banco de Credito in Montevideo and deposited as much as $25,000 each.
The money from the women went into the account of an anonymous association called Cami II, which was controlled by Moon’s Unification Church. In one day, Cami II received $19 million and, by the time the parade of women ended [after a week], the total had swelled to about $80 million.
It was not clear, however, where the money originated and whether it came from illicit sources. Nor was it known how many other times Moon’s organization has used this tactic – sometimes known as “smurfing” – to transfer untraceable cash into Uruguay.
Authorities did not push the money-laundering investigation, apparently out of deference to Moon’s political influence and fear of disrupting Uruguay’s banking industry.
Despite delivery of mysterious cash from Moon’s followers the bank again has slipped into a deficit estimated at $120 million. The deficit – or “red numbers” in the Spanish jargon – has been blamed largely on credits given to the Rio de la Plata hotel company ($65 million) and to Creditos S.A., a financial institution that was the bank’s first client.
Moon’s investment arm, Rondilcor S.A., also has invested money in privatization projects that have been slow to turn a profit. According to a U.S. State Department cable obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, “the Unification Church has few adherents in Uruguay [but] the church’s hotel ventures are just part of a significant business presence that the church hopes will prove profitable over the long term.”
… But Moon’s money continued to flow into new projects anyway. Embittered by his church’s decline in the United States – where membership reportedly has sunk to 3,000 members – Moon shifted his personal base of operations to a luxurious estate in Uruguay. In the last three years, Moon also bought the ex-Frigorifico Nacional, a cool-storage house; the Astilleros Tsakos dockyard; and other privatized port services. Moon has promised to build containers as well as fishing and chemical ships – and to construct a paper plant.
Nelson Cesin, a reporter for the newsweekly Brecha, has noted that the new acquisitions would allow Moon to move money freely around the world.
Moon himself has announced an ambitious plan for a worldwide transportation and propaganda system. To his followers, he has boasted about plans for building a network of small airstrips throughout South America and other parts of the world, supposedly for tourism. In one speech on Jan. 2, 1996, he even announced a scheme for deploying submarines to evade coastal patrols. “There are so many restrictions due to national boundaries worldwide,” Moon lamented during the speech, which the Unification Church posted on its internet site. “If you have a submarine, you don’t have to be bound in that way.”
Moon, however, understands that his primary protection comes from the political alliances that his money has bought. In the 1996 speech, Moon added that he “has been practicing the philosophy of fishing here [in Uruguay]. He [Moon] gave the bait to Uruguay and then the bigger fish of Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay kept their mouths open, waiting for a bigger bait silently. The bigger the fish, the bigger the mouth. Therefore, Father [Moon] is able to hook them more easily.”
In recent years, Moon also has continued his clandestine cash transfers into the United States. According to court records from a divorce case involving one of Moon’s sons, Hyo Jin, $1 million in cash was carried into the United States in early 1994 by Moon’s followers and delivered to Hyo Jin who ran a Moon-controlled recording studio in New York City.
In an interview, one of Hyo Jin Moon’s top aides, Maria Madelene Pretorious, stated that the cash was circulated through Moon’s business empire in the United States as a way to launder it, before it was dispatched to church projects. …
Other critics have cited Moon’s heavy-handed tactics elsewhere in Uruguay. “The first thing we ought to do is clarify to the people [of Uruguay] that Moon’s sect is a type of modern pirate that came to the country to perform obscure money operations, such as money-laundering,” said Jorge Zabalza, a leader of the Movimiento de Participacion Popular, part of Montevideo’s ruling left-of-center political coalition. “This sect is a kind of religious mob that is trying to get public support to pursue its business.”
But Moon has his defenders in Uruguay, as he does in the United States. Many Uruguayans welcome his investments, the jobs they produce, and his charitable social programs. Moon has called Uruguay his South American “oasis” and has invested an estimated $200 million in the country, with more promised in the future.”
… another senior figure in Moon’s U.S. operations claimed that after Asia slid into an economic downturn in the 1990s, the bulk of Moon’s money began to arrive from South America. [For more details on Moon’s recent activities and history, see iF Magazine, Sept.-Oct. 1997.]
Clearly, Moon’s big-dollar spending on conservative politicians in the United States and South America has helped shield the South Korean theocrat from serious scrutiny. In recent years, Moon’s American beneficiaries have included former President George Bush and Religious Right leader, Jerry Falwell.
But paradoxically, Moon’s banking deficits in Uruguay have given him additional leverage. Uruguayan authorities fear that a major financial bankruptcy could damage the country’s reputation. So, in exchange for “laissez-faire” treatment for his bank, Moon pumps in the necessary cash to keep Banco de Credito afloat.
Still, the ultimate source of Moon’s influence remains his subterranean flow of money, a virtual underground river of cash spewing from a hidden spring whose origin remains the biggest mystery of Moon’s organization. It is that spring which keeps Moon’s Uruguayan “oasis” green and his critics in both North and South America at bay.
On September 18, 1998 the Banco de Credito collapsed and Uruguay’s central bank intervened to seize control of the bank’s management. Uruguay’s bank controller put the bank’s accumulated debt at $161 million. …
The strategy of “cratering” a bank is often associated with organized crime syndicates which quietly take control of financial institutions and siphon off their resources before leaving them as empty shells.
Sen. Luis Eduardo Mallo charged that overall Moon’s companies had taken more than $125 million and had turned the bank into a “cashier for Moon’s enterprises.” One Moon company, the Corporacion Rioplatense de Hoteles S.A., was in debt $96 million.
In the Shadow of the Moons by Nansook Hong (1998) pages 171-173
“In 1992 Mrs Hak Ja Han Moon told me I would accompany her on a ten-city tour of Japan. … Members of the family of Sun Myung Moon were thoroughly scrutinized by customs agents whenever leaving Korea or entering the United States. This trip was no exception. One benefit of her enormous entourage was that Mrs. Moon had plenty of traveling companions with whom to enter the country. I was given twenty thousand dollars in two packs of crisp new bills. I hid them beneath the tray in my makeup case. I held my breath in Seattle when customs agents began searching my luggage. I was the last of our party to go through customs, and the woman searching my bags seemed determined to find something. I pretended I did not speak English and could not understand her questions. An Asian supervisor came over and chastised her. “Can’t you see she only speaks Korean,” the supervisor said, smiling at me. “Let her through.”
I knew that smuggling was illegal, but I believed the followers of Sun Myung Moon answered to higher laws. It was my duty to serve without question. I did what I was told, worrying more that I might lose the money than that I might be arrested. … ”
Moon’s Japanese Profits Bolster Efforts in U.S.
– The Washington Post Sept 16, 1984
“Yoshikazu Soejima [ex-member of the FFWPU who was a top leader in Japan, and nearly died in a stabbing attack] said these transactions were usually made through international bank transfers, but large amounts of cash were carried into the United States by church members because “sometimes Moon wants money right away. Getting permission to send it by bank transfer takes time.
” When Moon conducted a “mass wedding” of 2,075 couples in Madison Square Garden in 1982, 400 Japanese men and women were flown over for the event. “Each person took, I think, about $2,000,” Soejima said.” LINK
Global Policy Forum (2001): [The Moon organization] is said to be building another casino in a tourist resort near the Argentine border. Its large Uruguayan holdings also include the Corporation Rioplatense de Hoteles S.A. and Hotel Horacio Quiroga. LINK
Was money sent to Uruguay from the News World / The New York City Tribune?
▲ The Tiffany Building at 401 Fifth Avenue was purchased by the Unification Church / FFWPU for $2.4million. It housed The New York Tribune newspaper. An Il Hwa restaurant, another UC business, can be seen in this photo.
The first issue of News World was published in New York City on December 31, 1976. On this occasion, Sun Myung Moon said, “We must create a newspaper company that can spread the word about universal justice in God’s name.” This newspaper reported, before the end of the presidential election in 1979, that the Republican presidential candidate, Ronald Reagan, had won. It changed its name to The New York City Tribune on April 4, 1983.
It has been alleged that the leadership at The New York Tribune misused money. This was uncovered by a senior member. Apparently $1million was being given to the paper every month, but only about a quarter of that was being used for the Tribune payroll, etc. It was said that money was taken down to Uruguay. Apparently there was a meeting of the Tribune senior management at which the financial situation was explained – and that because of a lack of cash, the paper would have to close. Reportedly there was a lot of shouting, but the paper closed on January 3, 1991.
These details have not been confirmed by the former staff of the Tribune, or by News World Communications, Inc.
However, the arrival of undocumented cash in Uruguay has been confirmed by numerous sources (see above).
A “new” New York Tribune debuted in 1976 in New York City. It was published by News World Communications, Inc., owned by the Unification Church. It was published in the former Tiffany and Company Building until it printed its last edition on January 3, 1991. Its sister paper, The Washington Times, is circulated primarily in the nation’s capital. The Tribune carried an expansive “Commentary” section of opinions and editorials. Former New York City Mayor Ed Koch was one of the columnists.
In December 2005, while on tour Moon returned to visit Uruguay and on that occasion he met with President Tabaré Vázquez, with whom he took photographs.
During that tour, the then Argentine president, Néstor Kirchner, refused to receive Moon.
Últimas Noticias newspaper closed in 2012. In September workers were negotiating for unpaid wages.
Sun Myung Moon’s FFWPU accused of involvement in drugs trade in Paraguay
October 14, 2004 The Irish Times
PARAGUAY: The Reverend Moon has carved out a section of Paraguay that is twice the size of Luxembourg. Séamus Mirodan went to see it.
Reverend Sun Myung Moon, spiritual leader of the Unification Church, self-proclaimed Messiah, multimillionaire and a generous contributor to the US Republican Party, has been showing a strong interest over the last five years in little-known Paraguay at the centre of the South American continent.
Since 1999, Rev Moon has built his personal empire which begins on the marshy banks of the River Paraguay and stretches beyond the hazy, level horizon through 600,000 hectares of arid land – equivalent to more than two Luxembourgs – punctuated by solitary clusters of withered trees and sad bushes which struggle desperately for air.
The scorching sun beats relentlessly on one of Latin America’s most desolate zones. It is here in the northern province of Chaco, directly above the Guaraní aquifer, the largest resource of fresh drinking water in the world, where Moon’s associates claim he wishes to build an ecological paradise.
Nevertheless, national Senator Domingo Laino sees a different pattern in Moon’s acquisitions. “There are two principal branches to Moon’s interest in Paraguay,” he said, “control of the largest fresh drinking water source in the world and control of the narcotics business”, which is so prevalent in this area. “President Lula told me that Brazil took serious measures to curb Moon a few years back as it became evident that he was buying up the border between our two countries,” said the senator.
Allegations from local law enforcement officials support this claim. The so-called Dr Montiel, Paraguay’s drugs tsar from 1976-89, said: “The fact that they came and bought in Chaco and on both sides of the Brazilian border is very telling. It is an enormously strategic point in both the narcotics and arms trades and indeed the available intelligence clearly shows that the Moon sect is involved in both these enterprises.”
Paraguay is the major drugs port through which virtually all the cocaine produced by Bolivia and Peru passes. In the world’s second most corrupt country, “the ease of buying influence is second to none”, said Montiel. “Corruption reaches dangerous levels and he who wants transparency in Paraguay is a dead man. Indeed the famous Iran contra affair was operated from Ciudad del Este” on the south-east Paraguayan border with Argentina and Brazil.
Not content with expanses of potentially invaluable land, Rev Moon has also taken over entire towns, including factories and homes. In Puerto Casado, tensions between Moon disciples and locals led to violent confrontation over the last year following the closure of the only source of work, a lumber factory, and the dismissal of 19 workers who tried to form a union in order to demand an eight-hour day and the national minimum wage of £80 sterling per month.
According to Senator Emilio Camacho: “The Moon sect is a mafia. They seek to subvert government control and are effectively building a state within a state. I believe they are hoping the local population will leave so they have unquestioned authority in the zone and are free to do whatever they want.”
This is not the first time such accusations have been levelled against Rev Moon and his associates in South America. Last June, the Chilean government refused to recognise the sect as a religious association and accused them of being “a danger to society”. An aid to the Chilean Interior Minister described Rev Moon’s ideology, somewhere to the right of the Taliban’s Mullah Omar, as “profoundly anti-communist, xenophobic and with a marked Nazi inspiration”. Venezuela and Honduras have expelled the cult.
Rev Moon’s South American adventure began in 1994 during a fishing trip. Rev Jung Min Hong, vice-president of Victoria S.A., said: “A golden El Dorado fish jumped into his boat. The reverend was awestruck by its beauty and decided that he must invest here for love of the environment, in order to protect nature.”
Having decided to buy land in the area, he first visited (according to local Zeta magazine) the city of Pedro Juan Caballero in the province of Amambay. Provincial governor Mr Roberto Acevedo said: “This is the Mecca of the narcotics trade where dealers live with complete immunity. They own judges, the police, even politicians.”
Rev Moon travelled there with Fermin De Alarcon, a Spanish financier, in the latter’s private jet. Mr De Alarcon tried unsuccessfully to sell the religious leader his Banco General and is currently a fugitive from the Paraguayan justice system after withdrawing all the funds in that and other banks before disappearing.
Rev Moon bought the Banco de Credito in 1983, in nearby Uruguay, the banking hub of Latin America. In November 1996 the Uruguayan bank employees’ union blew the whistle on a suspected money-laundering scheme after a procession of 4,200 Japanese women, all Moon-followers, allegedly deposited up to $25,000 each in cash. By the end of business that week, about $80 million had been deposited. [dates corrected]
The same year saw the inauguration of Rev Moon’s local media empire: Tiempos del Mundo, a newspaper distributed in the majority of the major capitals across South America. At the opening of the offices in Buenos Aires, George Bush snr was guest of honour and referred to Rev Moon, one of his major benefactors at the time of his first electoral campaign, as “a man of honour”. Indeed the reverend forged strong links with the Republican Party, not least by opening The Washington Times in 1982, estimated to lose some $50 million a year and once described by Bush as “so valuable in Washington, where we read it every day”.
From Amambay, Rev Moon moved across the border to the town of Ponta Pora in the southern Brazilian province of Mato Grosso do Sul, famous for its vast marijuana plantations. He bought nearly 200,000 hectares and built a “model city” called the New Hope Garden. He also owns a hotel there in the city of Porto Mortinho, home to Fahd Yamil, who Governor Acevedo described as “the Vito Corleone of the zone. He commands the price of everything and everyone who operates in the zone has to pay him for protection.”
In 1999, the Brazilian federal police launched an investigation into the involvement of Rev Moon’s associates in money-laundering and tax evasion, amidst accusations of drug-running. By October of that year, he had down-sized his operation in Brazil and bought land in Paraguay. According to local landowners, everything was paid for in cash, often for more than it was actually worth.
Construction began immediately on a new model city, Puerto Leda. Reverend Sano, the secretary-general of Rev Moon’s Foundation for Sustainable Development, which has its base in Leda, claimed only $4 million was invested to build everything from a landing-strip to a power plant. The town is also equipped with a 25-metre swimming pool and its own police and navy stations, even though Rev Sano claims it is only home to 10 Japanese sect members.
Rev Moon’s first involvement in the continent came during the late 1970s when his organisation donated the first $100,000 to Oliver North’s Nicaraguan Freedom Fund. The religious leader was implicated in many of the so-called Contra scandals during the Reagan-Bush administration.
Rev Moon’s ideology allowed him to cuddle up to many South American dictators during this era. Indeed, according to Bolivian intelligence reports at the time, he sought to recruit an “armed church” of 7,000 Bolivians receiving paramilitary training to support the infamous cocaine coup which brought Gen Carlos Meza to power with Nazi war criminal Klaus Barbie running his security operations.
Asked about these activities, Rev Sano admitted his organisation was “very anti-communist … The third world war will be fought between those who believe in God, namely democrats, and those who do not believe in God – communists.”
Uproar after Moonies buy town
BBC News October 14, 2000
The residents of Puerto Casado, in Paraguay, have demanded that their town be handed over to the local council after it was purchased by the sect known as the Moonies. The Unification Church of the Reverend Sun Myung Moon acquired more than 300,000 hectares of land in the northern department of Alto Paraguay.
The land was sold by an Argentine company and includes the town of Puerto Casado which has about 6,000 inhabitants.
The residents of Puerto Casado prevented an aircraft carrying a delegation of Moonies from returning to the capital, Asuncion after hearing on Wednesday that their town had been sold. After a meeting with community leaders, and the mediation of the deputy interior minister, Mario Sapriza, the Unification Church representatives were allowed to leave. But correspondents say tensions have not eased and no solution has been found.
The residents of Puerto Casado say they want the Moonies to hand over the property of the town and the church to the local council.
They are also demanding 5,000 hectares for agricultural purposes and to retain control over the airport and other facilities.
One of the representatives of the Unification Church, Reverend Koo-Bae Park, told residents that with the acquisition of the town they were now “partners”. He added that Moonies and local residents should learn to live together so as to be able to build universities, schools and a modern port.
A Paraguayan newspaper has quoted a local councillor, Jose Domingo Adorno, as saying that the community needs to be sure it won’t be evicted. “We demand guarantees that we won’t have to leave our homes. Paraguayans shouldn’t be sold in this manner”, he said.
The Moonies, who are thought to have paid $15 million for the land, say they have plans for the economic reactivation of the area.
These include the export of timber, and the construction of new river ports from which to transport their products to Asia.
The Unification Church already manages a newspaper in Paraguay, as well as buildings and yachts in Fuerte Olimpo, the departmental capital of Alto Paraguay.
In neighbouring Brazil, the sect has built a community for about 2,000 followers.
UNIFICATION CHURCH UNDER SIEGE IN BRAZIL
Rev. Moon’s massive land purchases lead to major search-and-seizure operation
May 14, 2002 at 1:00 AM http://www.wnd.com/2002/05/13898/
RIO DE JANEIRO — Rev. Sun Myung Moon, founder of the Unification Church – which owns real estate and other assets in Brazil thought to be worth nearly $250 million – is facing a major investigation here for alleged money laundering, tax evasion and abetting illegal immigration.
In addition, Moon’s massive land acquisitions along national borders have raised concerns about regional security in South America. If prosecutors prove what they suspect is the real purpose of the church’s activities there, their investigation could be the beginning of the end for Moon’s vision of a new Eden on the continent.
Rev. Phillip Schanker, vice president of Moon’s organization, the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification, USA, acknowledged the Brazilian crackdown, but told WorldNetDaily it was politically motivated and that there is no evidence to support the charges. In addition, he said, his organization is responsible for a great deal of philanthropy in the region, such as the donation of dozens of ambulances to local communities.
The church’s far-flung empire includes several media properties, including The Washington Times and Insight magazine, the World and I magazine, and more recently, United Press International.
Paradise for believers
Over the last decade, the Family Federation for World Peace, Moon’s organization, has bought land in South America that Moon himself has estimated at close to 1.2 million hectares.
Much of that territory includes the sprawling New Hope Farm, a paradisical but largely idle plantation larger than some countries, extending across the Brazilian border into Paraguay and Bolivia. According to Moon, the fertile lands and mineral resources in the region are “big enough to feed one or two hundred million people.”
The charges against Moon’s organization arose after a former employee, Korean translator Jae-Sik Kim, complained to the Labor Ministry late last year that he had been cheated out of his salary. His testimony, which included charges of fraud, sparked a police investigation in December that has rapidly accelerated after years of growing government unease over Moon’s activities, culminating in a massive search and seizure operation last week.
According to a Federal Police statement, “although formally established in the country as a philanthropic entity, the (Family Federation for Unification and World Peace) has developed a diversified program, generating … a high level of doubt about its true objectives.”
After seizing bank records in February, federal authorities on May 6 conducted a simultaneous raid on church holdings in 15 cities throughout Brazil.
Following the money
Sergio Messias, the Federal Revenue Service’s intelligence chief for the southwest region, believes that the Unification Church is acting fraudulently in Brazil as a commercial entity under the guise of a not-for-profit organization.
The two main elements of the investigation under way involve allegations that taxes should have been paid by the church as a commercial entity, and of money laundering involving currency illegally imported to Brazil. If proven, the allegations could result in the appropriation of the church’s real estate, and criminal penalties including jail terms for the group’s leaders.
“The Revenue Service believes that the real purpose of Moon’s organization, specifically the land acquisitions, in Brazil is to create a tourism complex for commercial purposes,” Messias told WND.
In the Brazilian section alone, the international estate extends over 85,000 hectares in Mato Grosso do Sul. According to the Revenue Service’s calculations, the group owes taxes on about $30 million to $35 million per year in undeclared income from those lands, plus unpaid rural taxes, since 1996.
“We have discovered that the money used to purchase the land came from the U.S., Japan, and Korea, from either the Unification Church itself or from entities linked to the church,” Messias said.
Although the Family Federation for Unification and World Peace is registered in Brazil as a domestic entity, and in the name of Brazilian individuals, Messias said there is solid evidence that those that control the organization and make the decision to purchase land are foreigners.
But under Brazilian law, foreigners are barred from purchasing land 150 kilometers from the national border, which would entitle the court to seize those lands. Authorities are also considering appropriation of the rest of the vast estate, by the Incra land reform agency.
Family Federation’s Schanker said he’s been in communication with the Brazilian ambassador in the United States trying to work through the allegations “for the past year-and-a-half,” insisting the church has “fully cooperated” with Brazilian authorities.
“Starting in September 2000,” Schanker said, the Brazilian government “began making requests for information” regarding Moon’s operation. “All I can say is we have been cooperative and have given them all the information they have requested.”
Local officials “have visited the place several times,” he said, including a number of “surprise visits.”
He said he knew nothing about the charges that the church owed millions in back taxes to Brazilian tax agencies.
“They looked for drugs, they looked for cross-border connections, they looked for all kinds of things but came up with nothing because we have been open and cooperative,” he said.
Schanker notes that the church has a school in the area – which now has 300 students – and has “donated at least 57 ambulances” to local communities. He also says the church has contributed “a large amount of land” for the formation of a national park.
“We’ve bent over backwards to cooperate,” he adds, acknowledging that he personally submitted a five-page report in 2000 to the Brazilian ambassador’s office in the U.S., “answering their questions as to who owned the land [and] what was our purpose for it.”
Alarmed by the Unification Church’s land acquisitions, the Mato Grosso do Sul State Assembly has set up a special inquiry to investigate the organization. That inquiry calculates that some $200 million could have entered the country illegally.
Through 1999, the most recent data from the Revenue Service, only $40 million had passed legally through the Central Bank.
While the amount that may have entered Brazil illegally is still not known, Messias maintains there is clear evidence of money laundering.
“We have heard testimony from various individuals who crossed the border from Bolivia or Paraguay carrying in some cases about $200,000 in currency,” Messias said, adding that the amount allegedly laundered in such a way is estimated in the millions of dollars.
In addition the revenue agency found that thousands of visitors to the New Hope Farm each year contributed from $1,000 to $10,000 each over a period of years to take part in the church’s “contemplative tourism” offerings, such as 40-day seminars.
“A very conservative estimate would be that about $10 million per year were laundered this way,” Messias said.
Investigators claim the decision to buy land was intended to maximize its return from tourism and mineral resources. According to Messias, this suspicion reinforces the hypothesis that they were acquired by a foreign entity for commercial purposes, rather than for philanthropy.
The region, apart from its natural beauty and fertile soil, also contains some of the largest ground reserves of fresh water in the world. Those reserves are expected to multiply in value in the coming decades as fresh water becomes increasingly scarce, Messias said.
According to the Unification Church website, Moon commented on the scarcity of water after a visit to South America, saying: “What do you need most in nature? Water. Without water, nothing will survive. All the food we consume requires water. Whoever controls water will control the future world.”
Evidence shows that the group also targeted purchases of land containing some of Brazil’s richest bio-diversity.
“We also have evidence that as soon as they discovered that foreigners could purchase land in the Pantanal wetland preserve, the group began conducting real estate evaluations, over-flights, and other activity that we believe shows intent to purchase up to 1 million more hectares,” said Messias.
That activity stopped late last year when the investigation intensified.
Police conduct massive sweep
According to a statement by the Federal Police superintendent in Mato Grosso do Sul, Wantuir Brasil Jancini, “the Moon case is of concern, because he acquired huge tracts of land, but we have heard nothing about the economic activity in the area.”
In between spiritual meetings, food preparation, cleaning and other activities, an estimated 800 foreign volunteers per month arrive at New Hope Farm to provide volunteer labor in farming, fishing, ranching and other activities such as apiculture and an experimental ostrich farm. That is not to mention the millions reaped through tourism as thousands of church members flock to the region each year to take part in religious teachings and stay in comfortable hotels owned by the church.
The Federal Police said about 50 church-sponsored illegal immigrants have been discovered so far, the fruit of immigration control operations started when the New Hope Project was begun.
After months of surveillance and subpoenas of the church’s bank records, authorities conducted a massive search-and-seizure operation May 6 to collect material evidence in 15 cities in Mato Grosso do Sul and Sao Paulo states. About 70 federal police, acting with 35 revenue inspectors, public prosecutors and state officials began sweeping farms, homes, hotels and offices belonging to church members.
What they found was a Taurus .380 pistol, three laptop computers, 20 CPUs from microcomputers, a mobile satellite telephone, $16,000 in travelers checks and $214 in brand new single notes, hundreds of videos, audio tapes, CD-ROMs and documents written mainly in the Korean language. Brazilian law does not permit unfettered search and seizure, although the protections are not as broad as those in the United States. Police obtained authorization for the raids based on a series of legal protocols.
According to a police spokesman, “the next step is to analyze all these materials for indications of crime, which will then be handed over to federal prosecutors. The process will take some time, because just counting the bank records there are up to 30,000 branches in the country that may have to be investigated.”
Messias estimates this aspect of the investigation will take months to resolve.
East of Eden
Immigration authorities say the Unification Church has been officially active in Brazil since 1976, but other sources claim the group arrived as early as 1964. The church also has vast business assets in Uruguay, where it began its South American expansion and is said to be planning a seaport, territory in Argentina and interests in other parts of Latin America besides the international New Hope Farm.
The ambition of the site’s planned temple, hotel and university complex could rival the Ziggurat. It is said that the complex was planned to host up to 30,000 followers, or nearly the entire population of two neighboring cities, Jardim and Guia Lopes da Laguna, but had been blocked on violations of building codes. The estimated current capacity at the site is some 3,000 people.
According to Unification Church’s leaders in Brazil, such as Neudir Ferabolli, a lawyer for the organization whose own bank records were among those seized, the blitz on the church’s holdings represents religious persecution by authorities and individuals, who do not understand the group’s philosophy or its purpose in Brazil.
Ferabolli dismisses the charges as little more than religious persecution and the state legislature’s investigation as grandstanding during an election year, according to an Associated Press report.
“It’s more like they want us to buy them,” Ferabolli said of accusations the association was trying to use its money to buy influence with the region’s politicians.
Allegations never proven
The presence of the Unification Church has had an uneasy past in this predominately Catholic country. In 1981, the Justice Ministry launched an investigation for supposed “brainwashing” of youths after receiving dozens of letters denouncing the church.
However, allegations of violating child protection laws and holding youths against their parents’ will were never proven. But local communities invaded and destroyed some of the church’s offices, leading to protests by the group that it had been persecuted for its religious beliefs, but evidence shows the federal government had, in fact, sided with the church.
Classified documents from the 1981 Justice Ministry investigation, published by Brazil’s Estado do S?o Paulo newspaper, suggested the military regime at the time supported Moon because “the Unification Church fights openly against international communism … and therefore is a means to balance the very uneven activities of subversive organizations in our country.”
Over the years, both the Catholic Church and Protestant movements have sought to have the Unification Church expelled from Brazil, sending letters to the Justice Ministry about the alleged “depersonalization” of Moon’s followers and questioning his “unorthodox” interpretation of Christian theology.
Unification Church in Brazil
The philanthropic acts and land purchases at over market value begun in 1996 ended the discreet profile the church had adopted after the 1981 investigation. Church missionaries have since complained of harassment, such as difficulty with obtaining phone lines in some areas, and “negative” press reports involving alleged drug trafficking, as well as other accusations the group has denied.
In a speech in New York, transcribed on the Unification Church website, Moon said: “Even among the South Americans, no one worked as hard as I have for the sake of South America.”
Moon founded his church in 1954 based on [the] landmark work, “The Divine Principle.” His movement seeks to “clarify the meaning of the Bible and all the world’s scriptures, paving the way for the world’s religions to resolve their internal struggles and become resources for building world peace.”
Among the most prominent Moon activities in Brazil was financial support for soccer clubs, a Brazilian national pastime. One such team, the New Hope Sports Center, is a top-ranked club that won third place in the state championship in 2001, putting tiny Jardim on the map in professional sports.
“Although the Unification Movement is investing a substantial amount of money in the soccer team, the team has become an effective tool for opening the hearts of the people,” Unification Church missionary Nelson Mira of Jardim wrote in an essay, “True Parents New Soccer Team Wows Brazil.”
The group has carried out high-publicity charitable events, such as the donation of several dozen ambulances to local communities, plans to build a soccer stadium and other pledged investments amounting to $100 million, huge open barbecues and other such activities. The group and its ambitious undertakings also create jobs in the region for members and non-members alike, and have indisputably helped the local economy.
However, Brazilian authorities doubt the motives behind the Unification Church’s philanthropy. Among the concerns is that the organization intends to expand its social and political influence in Brazil through its practice of arranged marriages between Brazilian and foreign citizens.
There are at least 25 documented cases of foreign church members who travel to Brazil while pregnant, give birth, then take these infant Brazilian citizens out of the country several months later, according to Messias.
This part of Moon’s activity in the region is of concern, he says, because it suggests that the Unification Church is busily building what could become in effect an independent religious state in South America.
In Moon’s work, “Blessing and Ideal Family,” he explains the purpose behind the arranged marriages: “When we can go into every country without restriction because of these international marriages, the walls which were high and strong will be destroyed.”
According to Messias, “we began this investigation seeking to determine the situation with the land taxes and whether or not the Family Federation for Unification and World Peace is conducting commercial activities. However, we found that the real problem was not just fiscal, but relates to national security.”
Investigators suspect that the Unification Church plans to educate the children born in Brazil under Moon’s philosophies for later reintroduction into Brazilian society, where they could assume political posts and other positions of power. Likewise, the land acquisitions are thought to be part of a larger scheme to set up foreign colonies in Brazil that would grow in influence over time and overtake national authority.
“These children could even become president one day,” Messias said.
The Revenue Service is not alone in its suspicions. According to recent statements in the press by Defense Minister Geraldo Quintao, the Unification Church and its expansion in South America over the last decade is “not well looked upon.”
Moon has reportedly proposed U.N. administration of demilitarized “buffer zones” in areas of intense conflict, specifically along the 38th parallel between the Koreas. According to Moon’s vision, the land ceded to create these zones would be compensated by the South American real estate. Brazilian officials allege this is a point of concern for national security.
According to a Moon speech published by his group: “I am working to make a balance between the third world and first world nations, based on nearly 60 island nations, and to connect them with South America. These countries of South America opposed me, but because of my investment they will change. Eventually this will connect to and be part of the U.N. foundation.”
Quintao has already met with his Bolivian counterpart to discuss the situation with Moon’s land purchase across the border, and both agreed to set up a special intelligence subgroup to monitor the activity on their borders and with Paraguay, where Moon’s organization is also active.
“When a foreign individual appears wanting to buy land on both sides of a border, establishing continuity with land on the other side, evidently this is of interest to the intelligence sector and needs to be accompanied with attention,” Quintao said.
Schanker says he believes the church is being subjected to unwarranted persecution. “This seems clearly a case of government interference in the affairs of a religious organization,” he said. “There is no commercial intent for that property.”
Schanker denied there was anything to charges of money laundering, tax evasion and illegal immigration. “Impossible,” he said.
He said the same kind of persecution occurred against Moon in the U.S. in the late 1970s.
The Unification church’s teachings “stirred up a lot of investigations and a lot of questions and prejudice,” Schanker told WND, adding that the group was subjected to a lot of probing by congressional committees and other federal agencies.
Eventually, Moon was charged and convicted of tax evasion – “for an amount that was beneath the Justice Department – $7,300 over a three-year period,” Schanker said, on “an account that had been closed for three years on monies that the church said were public, not private.”
Brazilian authorities “have put every kind of stumbling block in our way,” he said. “We have tried to give them every bit of access possible. But why do they bring machine guns, break down doors, and create an image as if we’re a criminal organization? It’s crazy. It’s hype.”
Schanker called charges that the church was attempting to set up foreign colonies in Brazil “ridiculous.”
“We haven’t converted anybody,” he said. “If anyone would interview people at our school, for example, they’d tell you we’re not interested” in those kinds of activities.
Such charges “are absolutely unfounded,” he added. “They are just fomenting hysteria for either political or religious reasons.”
John Waggoner is a journalist specializing in Latin American affairs.