Familiar to Algarve visitors and residents alike, the KissFM radio station broadcasting from Albufeira and more recently from Lisbon, is part of a network of media companies controlled ultimately by the billionaire Brazilian, Bishop Edir Macedo Bezerra (main picture) who founded the Igreja Universal do Reino de Deus (IURD).
Portuguese registered company Global Difusion SGPS owns KissFM and several other Portuguese radio stations and lists board members David Santos Perpetuo and Maria João Romão Dias Silva.
God-fearing Perpetuo (pictured below) holds directorships in many church-owned media companies in Portugal which ultimately are controlled by Bishop Edir Macedo Bezerra of the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God.
IURD is part of growing brand of Neo-Pentecostal churches and is the most powerful and controversial Protestant church in Brazil with assets including a national network television channel, a newspaper, two print magazines and one online magazine, a record company, a tourism business, and radio stations.
Federal investigators and media articles have accused IURD of corruption, tax evasion, money laundering, and fraud.
Critics point out that the IURD spreads intolerance through its vilification of Catholic saints, followers of Afro-Brazilian religions, and gays and lesbians.
The Church expanded in Brazil by importing American evangelical methods and was the first Brazilian church to use mass media in a Televangelist style.
IURD afforded its acquisitions and church building programme due to the huge income from its ‘prosperity theology,’ a doctrine that promises church members health, good fortune, and romantic success if they have faith and give regular donations to church funds.
This message of payment or sacrifice in exchange for divinely delivered economic security has attracted many of Brazil’s poorest who make up the majority of IURD’s followers.
IURD’s expansion in the ‘80s and ‘90s put it in direct conflict with Brazil’s Catholic establishment and media owners but none of the major Christian churches in Brazil endorse gay rights or Afro-Brazilian religions, however none has been as consistently vicious in their attacks as IURD.
IURD continues to expand, seemingly immune to investigations, media reports, and books that attempt to reveal the money trail flowing from the back streets of Brazil to fund a growing media empire in Brazil and now Portugal.
Its recent development of a Church Army may soon bring it face to face with more mainstream media and political leaders as the obvious parallel with political rallies with WWII overtones has been seized on with glee by detractors.
The Church’s militia is called ‘Gladiators of the Altar’ which "aims to train disciplined and highly trained young people to face the daily challenges to win souls and make disciples."
In videos released by the Church, dozens of uniformed young adherents march and repeat slogans but this may be harmless stuff, certainly in comparison with the serious doubts as to the financial probity of a church whose leaders seem to have spent much of their time and effort in court or defending serious charges as the Church enriches itself at the expense of its flock.
The media empire of founder Edir Macedo Bezerra includes the second-largest television network in Brazil, Rede Record and its parent Central Record de Comunicaçao, Rede Família, Record News, Line Records, 64 radio stations of Rede Aleluia and Universal Produções.
According to Forbes, Macedo continuously is involved in scandals, mostly due to allegations that the Church illegally channelled donations overseas of billions of US dollars intended for charity, and then returned the money to Brazil where, according to São Paulo's public prosecutor, there was evidence that it was used for the ‘personal interests’ of the church leaders, including Macedo.
There also have been official charges of fraud and money laundering and prosecutions by US and Venezuelan authorities but still in March 2013 Macedo made it onto the Forbes billionaires list with a reported US$1.1 billion, making him certainly the richest Church leader in Brazil.
Edir Macedo also was indicted by the Federal Justice for fraudulent import of equipment and use of false public documents and legal proceedings, but not convicted.
Ten years later he was prosecuted again by the prosecutors of the State of São Paulo. On 19 October 2010 the São Paulo Justice Court annulled all accusations made by the São Paulo Public Ministry against the UCKG and its principal representatives by a majority vote.
The judges deemed that the São Paulo prosecutors did not have jurisdiction to investigate the case, as the accusations were of a type that fell into the federal jurisdiction.
KissFM was founded in Albufeira in 1992 and was sold to IURC by its founder in 2010.
Will the new owner receive radio station profits for the benefit of the poor, or for the benefit of the IURC founder who so far has used money donated by Brazil’s poor to build his media empire?
Whether KissFM's staff and advertisers are affected or care about the source of the money used to buy the radio station, or worry unduly about the destination of the money KissFM earns for the benefit of the IURC and its owners, is a moot point as the distance between this Portuguese and the back streets of Brazil is maybe too great to be disturbing.
The channelling of funds donated to the Church into buying legitimate businesses may be a smart move but if Edir Macedo Bezerra's empire truly is built on the cash generated from Brazil's gullible masses, there is little now that loyal KissFM staff can do about it.
Bishop's humble abode: