The Bank of Scotland has appointed the controversial American TV evangelist Dr Pat Robertson as chairman of its US retail banking holding company. The fundamentalist minister is known in America as founder and president of the 1.2-million member far-right Christian Coalition and for his statements attacking feminists, homosexuals, Democrats and Hindus.
The Christian Coalition is facing charges by the US Federal Election Commission. Last year, the US Internal Revenue Service, with the agreement of Robertson’s ministry, the Christian Broadcast Network, stripped it and three other Robertson-controlled groups of their tax-exempt status for the years 1986 and 1987 for engaging in political activity leading up to his failed US presidential bid.
Robertson has recently become involved in UK businesses. In February he was appointed to the board of directors of Laura Ashley. The following month, Bank of Scotland’s British customers protested when it announced the launch of a phone-based US consumer bank holding company with Robertson as 25 per cent owner. He is now chairman of that operation.
An Observer investigation reveals new allegations relating to Robertson’s pyramid marketing businesses, which started trading in 1990 and collapsed in 1992. Former executives and close associates claim the lists of donors to his tax-exempt religious charity were used to promote a network marketing operation which operated under the name ‘Kalo-Vita’, selling vitamins and other items. Under the marketing schemes, each salesperson paid fees for the right to sell the company’s products. Within a year, the sales force numbered 20,000.
Uncompensated use of the charity-donors list would violate US tax law, as would use of the charity’s facilities without payment, another charge alleged by a former officer of a Robertson enterprise. The use of donor lists and assistance to political campaigns has resulted in charges brought against the Christian Coalition by the US Federal Election Commission, now before the federal courts. It denies the charges.
A spokesman for Robertson Financial and the religious ministry, contacted at their shared offices in Virginia Beach, Virginia, stated that he was unfamiliar with the allegations regarding the marketing companies’ abuse of charity lists and resources.
Robertson faces a separate investigation by the State of Virginia. In 1994, his charity, ‘Operation Blessing’, bought airplanes to ferry medical supplies to refugees in Rwanda.
Virginia is now completing an investigation into the diversion of the planes to ferry equipment to a diamond mine in the Congo owned by Robertson. But the president of Robertson Financial, Neil Volder, says Operation Blessing received donations from the clergyman exceeding the planes’ worth.
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Gregory Palast’s column “Inside Corporate America” appears fortnightly in the Observer’s Business section. Nominated Business Writer of the Year (UK Press Association – 2000), Investigative Story of the Year (Industrial. Society – 1999), Financial Times David Thomas Prize (1998).