“Treating private jets like ubers.” Money was “used to do the kind of shopping that would embarrass a Kardashian.” These are the comments from an Australian politician on Hillsong and its alleged misuse of funds.
Independent Australian MP Andrew Wilkie has alleged in parliament that Hillsong Church broke financial laws, accusing the organization of fraud, money laundering and tax evasion. Hillsong denies the allegations.
Mr Wilkie has accused the Australian megachurch of misusing funds to pay for jets, retreats, and other luxuries. Using parliamentary privilege Thursday, Wilkie accused the church’s founder Brian Houston of spending lavishly on private jets, luxury retreats, designer goods and custom skateboards.
According to a report by Australia’s smh.com.au, the Tasmanian MP said he received church finances were leaked to him by a whistleblower. The claims about lavish spending and misuse of funds are reportedly detailed in tens of thousands of documents including credit card statements, details of first class and business flights, the use of private jets, entertainment and designer gifts, Mr Wilke said.
Mr Wilkie said church money was used “to do the kind of shopping that would embarrass a Kardashian”.
“For example, this document shows how in 2021 four members of the Houston family and their friends enjoyed a three-day luxury retreat in Cancun, Mexico using $150,000 of church money,” he said, holding up a piece of paper in parliament.
“A $6500 Cartier watch for Bobbie Houston, $2500 for Louis Vuitton luggage, a $2500 watch for Phil Dooley, who is now the Global Senior Minister of Hillsong, two watches worth $15,000 for Joel and Julia A’Bell, shopping sprees for designer clothes at Saks Fifth Avenue and even $16,000 for custom skateboards.”
Claims about Hillsong spending made in the documents include $82,000 on allowances for pastors and executive staff to purchase meals, $26,000 on entertainment, $37,000 on flowers, $171,000 on gifts, $288,000 on honorariums to guest speakers, $13,000 on high tea and more, smh.com.au reported.
Mr Wilkie said that the documents were offered to the Australian Tax Office, the Australian Securities and Investment Commission and the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission last year under whistleblower legislation.
The New Daily stated that Mr Wilkie said in 2021, four members of the Houston family spent three days at a luxury retreat in Cancun Mexico using $150,000 of Church money.
“These documents show former leader Brian Houston treating private jets like Ubers, again all with church money,” he told parliament.
“For example, in one three-month period Brian Houston’s trips cost $55,000, $52,000, $30,000, $22,000 and $2000,” he told parliament.
“Meanwhile, the new head of Hillsong, Phil Dooley, has told churchgoers he only flies economy.
“But these documents show him clocking up $58,000 in business class flights for him and his daughter to Guatemala, $42,000 in business class flights to Mexico and $32,000 in business class flights from Capetown to Sydney via the US.”
Mr Wilkie listed a string of luxury purchases he said would put reality TV stars the Kardashians to shame.
“Hillsong followers believe the money they put in the poor box goes to the poor, but these documents show how that money is used to do the kind of shopping that would embarrass a Kardashian.”
Brian Houston resigned from Hillsong in 2022. His wife, Bobble Houston, was made redundant shortly after. The couple have been selling expensive items of clothing via Instagram, which will not only bring some cash their way, but is obviously no longer necessary now they are not in an official capacity in ministry.
Hillsong has not commented on Mr Wilkie’s claims.
Meanwhile, the church has had to defend the misuse of funds after a former employee filed a case against the megachurch, alleging “financial misconduct and dubious expenditures”.
Natalie Moses, who worked at the church in its accounts department, lodged her claim in the Federal Court last August via law firm Maurice Blackburn, claiming the church moved millions of dollars in payments through overseas entities to avoid scrutiny by the Australian charities regulator.
In addition, as far back as January 21, Hillsong New York City was facing allegations of lavish pastoral spending.
According to a report in the New York Post, pastors and staff apparently freely used debit-like “PEX” — or pre-paid expense — cards for whatever their hearts desired, several former members and staff told The Post. The source of the funds was money donated or “tithed” by members, said former Hillsong LA service pastor Nicole Herman, who personally loaded the funds onto the PEX cards.