After further allegations of abuse and oppression came out in court, the charities watchdog is again considering a request to investigate the trust behind Gloriavale.

Advocacy group Gloriavale Leavers’ Support Trust made a request to Charities Services, the charities regulator and part of the Department of Internal Affairs, in early March following an employment court hearing concerning the West Coast religious community.

The employment case was brought by three former Gloriavale members who are seeking a declaration that the Labour Inspectorate erred when it decided it couldn't investigate allegations of employment law breaches at the community on the grounds community members are not employees.

The judge has yet to deliver a decision.

During the hearing, numerous allegations were aired concerning sexual and physical abuse, the control and power wielded by Gloriavale leaders, or "shepherds", over the community, and how community businesses and other entities have been structured to minimise tax.

In a brief of evidence, a senior Gloriavale member said: "Jesus taught that we should pay our taxes, which we willingly do."

In its closing submissions, the Gloriavale defendants said there had been "assertions of impropriety without evidential basis" and that the leavers provided a significant amount of evidence not relevant to the issues at hand. 

In a letter to Charities Services, Gloriavale Leavers’ Support Trust manager Liz Gregory said "emerging evidence" from the hearing validated the trust's concerns.

She called on the regulator to investigate the Christian Church Community Trust, the registered charity behind the religious community, repeating an earlier call made by the leavers’ trust in 2019. 

Further delays from government agencies would result in untold harm, Gregory asserted.

In an interview with BusinessDesk, Gregory said Gloriavale derived enormous value from being a registered charity, but she believed the evidence clearly showed the trust wasn't legally fit to be one.

“Gangs work outside of the law,” she said, “Gloriavale thinks they’re above the law.

“They just need to be stripped of their charitable status.”

Samuel Valor, the chair of the Christian Church Community Trust, declined to comment.

Weighing it up

In a statement, Charities Services general manager Mike Stone confirmed DIA had received the request from the leavers’ trust.

“We are presently assessing that request and expect to make a decision shortly and will then convey that to the trust.”

Stone was unable to comment further.

The Christian Church Community Trust, which owns eight companies, reported revenue of $19.8 million in the year to July 2021, according to its most recent annual return summary.

While charitable trusts are exempt from paying income tax, the return recorded $500,000 was paid in company tax, presumably by the companies themselves.

Charities Services and the independent registration board have the ability to deregister charities if they show a significant and persistent failure to meet the obligations of the Charities Act or for serious wrongdoing, including oppressive conduct and gross mismanagement.

The regulator previously investigated the trust behind Gloriavale in 2015 after allegations about misconduct within the community were raised in the media.

Investigators found the trust and trustees may have engaged in serious wrongdoing under the act, but Charities Services determined it was in the public interest for the trust to remain as a registered charity, in part so the regulator could continue to engage with trustees and provide oversight. 

The trust also advanced religion and provided sufficient public benefit, according to the investigation report.

Charities Services reported a high degree of cooperation from the trustees during the probe, which resulted in a number of changes, including the appointment of external trust advisors and written policies on handling sexual abuse allegations and how to treat leavers.

Gregory was dismissive of the genuineness of the reforms, telling BusinessDesk she thought Charities Services had overestimated its ability to monitor and achieve positive changes at Gloriavale.

“They haven’t heeded concerns and they’ve overestimated their ability to get any actual change on the ground," she said.

“I don’t know what they thought their influence was going to do.”

BusinessDesk has launched a major investigation into the charities sector in the coming months. News tips to [email protected], [email protected]