An investigation into smuggling activities involving Seventh-day Adventist Church leaders in Argentina has led to the departure of top administrators of the Argentina Union Conference, according to an official communique. Administrators at River Plate Adventist University have also resigned, and the Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA) has been named in a federal judge’s judicial report.
The Argentina Union Conference wrote on Wednesday that the union’s Board of Directors accepted the resignation of Union President Carlos Gill Krug, Union Treasurer Carlos Giménez Graf, and legal representative, Roberto Giaccarini. The communique cited the need for transparency and the facilitating of the ongoing investigation:
Outgoing leaders are involved in a judicial process involving accusations about the entry into the country of a shipment from the United States destined for River Plate Adventist University (Universidad Adventista del Plata). They made the decision to facilitate and give greater transparency to the internal measures being carried out by the Church, in order to identify responsibilities and modify the processes that allowed the irregularities.”
News site Infobae (formerly Buenos Aires Económico) reported on accusations of smuggling leveled against Gill Krug, Giménez Graf, Giaccarini (who worked with ADRA since 2002) Oscar Ramos, rector of the River Plate Adventist University; Jorge de Sousa Matías, River Plate vice-rector; and customs broker Nilda Beatriz Saira.
Federal Judge from Campana Adrián González Charvay in a judicial investigation charged them with defrauding "by means of deception and preventing the proper exercise of the functions of the laws governing customs services" with "the presentation of ideologically false documents and misleading statements."
News of the alleged Adventist smuggling ring first broke in July of last year after Argentine customs officials intercepted two shipping containers, marked “donation,” at the private port Terminal Zárate de la Aduana on the Paraná River in Buenos Aires. The containers originated with ADRA in the United States and were destined for River Plate Adventist University. ADRA International shared the following statement:
ADRA International has more than 60 years of experience with international shipments of development and relief materials. ADRA’s current gifts in kind program follows a strict and transparent protocol, including the use of vetted and approved vendors. Any activity in connection with the shipment to Argentina was conducted outside of official ADRA procedures and without the use of approved vendors. ADRA International is not under investigation, and any internal issues connected with the shipment have been resolved with assurance that no private donations or other support were misused.
When officials opened the containers they found expired and potentially infectious used medical equipment—connectors, catheters, unusable femoral kits, old disassembled machines and nonfunctioning hospital monitors labeled "out of service," as well as expired insulin and heparin. There were also some new medical supplies in the shipment. The expired and used medical equipment not only constituted a violation of ANMAT regulations that govern donated medical supplies, but among syringes in badly packaged boxes, officials also found nearly 15 million Argentine pesos worth of undeclared electronic goods: six Samsung smart TVs, thirteen HP computers, five Sony Bravia 74.5 TVs, HD camcorders, iPads, iPhones, iMac computers, a generator set, car parts, a 3D printer, a Yamaha QLS professional sound console valued at 30 thousand U.S. Dollars, and a tractor mower.
Newly released documents indicate that De Sousa Matías knew he was in trouble. According to Infobae’s report, on July 22, he told a female confidant in a cell phone conversation, “They are opening every box. Keep praying.” Four days later, the woman with whom he spoke suggested talking with an influential politician. “Good idea,” he said, “we’ll look for an influential politician.”
According to court documents, customs broker Nilda Saira allegedly provided advice to de Sousa Matías on avoiding scrutiny. "Instead of screens, say it is equipment for classrooms," she wrote in an email. De Sousa Matías, in an intercepted email to another individual, stated that Saira offered to "go to the chancellery" to expedite procedures with the Argentine Consulate in Washington D.C. Saira had provided the paperwork to designate the shipment a donation, thereby avoiding paying tariffs.
De Sousa Matías was unaware that his communication with and about Saira was being monitored by order of Judge González Charvay, who has overseen the case. De Sousa Matías was arrested in a raid on the River Plate Adventist University campus in September. He was interrogated by federal officials and released. He stated that the shipment was to be used for medical training by students at River Plate, and that the equipment would be used on medical dolls rather than on humans.
He has since left his position at River Plate Adventist University, along with rector Oscar Ramos.
In a written ruling Judge Charvay said that the presence of the expired medical equipment was likely meant as a means of confusing the gaze or turning the attention of the controlling agents away from the electronic objects and medicine purchased abroad that they tried to pass as donated. The judge found that a large portion of the shipment was purchased abroad, not donated, and as such should be subject to import tariffs. He also found that such attempts to smuggle undeclared goods had likely been going on since at least 2013.
Court documents cited in Infobae’s report indicate that an American from Texas, a certain “John Grinswell,” was also involved in funneling purchased items through ADRA. After consultation with Infobae reporter Federico Fahsbender through social media, it was determined that there was a typo within the court documents. The individual in question is Dr. John Griswell III, medical director of the emergency department at Huguley Hospital. According to an article on the hospital website, Griswell “graduated with a B.A. in theology from Union College in Lincoln, Nebraska. He earned a Master of Divinity from Andrews University in Berrien Springs, Michigan. Fluent in Spanish, Dr. Griswell holds a Doctor of Medicine degree from Universidad Autonoma de Guadalajara, Mexico. He completed his internship and residency training at D.C. General Hospital in Washington, D.C.”
Dr. Griswell did not respond to requests for comment.
The Adventist Church’s Shifting Response
On Friday, February 17, when asked for official comment on the situation, the Adventist Church in Argentina pointed to an online video featuring then President Carlos Gill Krug, posted on the union’s Facebook page. In the video, Gill Krug said that the church will impugn the decision made by the judge since it contained several "omissions," "exaggerations," and inaccurate information. He noted that both Oscar Ramos and Jorge De Souza had resigned to make the investigating process more transparent. He said that the Argentinean Union Conference established a committee to investigate, and the South-American Division established another. He also said that this scandal shouldn't be a cause of distraction for the Argentine Church’s ongoing initiatives (when the news broke the church was finishing ten days of prayer and fasting). Gill said the media exaggerated what really happened. He finished the video with a short prayer, asking God to "clean" the church.
The president's video message was quickly removed from YouTube after many negative comments were posted.
The video received many negative responses, and on Saturday evening was removed from social media and YouTube. A union representative communicating through Facebook stated that the video had been posted for the benefit of church members on Saturday. After its dissemination, its being posted online was no longer considered needed. Another YouTube user reposted the video here. The church said a new communique was in the works.
Wednesday’s bulletin from the Argentina Union Conference named replacements for the two leaders of the union:
Darío Caviglione has been named president. He holds a bachelor's degree in theology and a master's degree from River Plate Adventist University. He holds a doctorate in ministry from the Peruvian Union University (Universidad Peruana Unión).
He was a district pastor for fifteen years in the Southern Argentine Association and the Northwest Argentina Mission. He later served as ministerial secretary for two and a half years in the Northern Argentine Association and then as president there for 3 ½ years. For the past three years he has served as president of the Central Argentine Association.
The Argentina Union has named Raul Kahl treasurer. Kahl studied public accounting at River Plate Adventist University. He began his work as a cashier in the Argentine Central Association. He served as an accountant and then as assistant treasurer for the Southern Union. In 2012, he was appointed financial manager of the South American Publishing House Association and later served as treasurer at the Southern Argentine Association.
The union’s communique expressed regret for the way “this situation affects our faith community and Argentine society, since [the union] supports ethical and moral values based on the Bible, which promote compliance with the laws. As from the beginning of the case, [the union] reaffirms its cooperation with the corresponding authorities.”
Jared Wright is Managing Editor of SpectrumMagazine.org.
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