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23 Jan, 2009 13:50

Kaká vows to rebuild collapsed church

Kaká vows to rebuild collapsed church

Brazilian football star Kaká has pledged to help rebuild the church whose roof collapsed last week in São Paulo, killing nine people. The Church’s founders face extradition from the U.S. on money laundering charges.

The accident happened in the city’s apolistic Renascer em Cristo (Reborn in Christ) church last Sunday. As well as nine fatalities, more than 50 were hurt when the roof caved in.

The AC Milan star, aged 26, is a devout Christian and a member of the Renascer em Cristo – one of Brazil’s most popular evangelical denominations.

The building, a converted cinema, is also the church’s headquarters. It holds 2,000 people and would normally be crowded on a Sunday evening.

When the roof came down, luckily, it was between services and only about 400 people were there.

No explanation has been given as to why the metal roof collapsed, but it rained heavily in the week before the tragedy.

Kaká donated his 2007 FIFA Player of the Year trophy to the church. Since then, the church had become a place of pilgrimage for fans of the footballer. Many come to see the award. It stood at the entrance of the building with a backdrop of images of the player in action.

Controversial founders wanted by authorities

The Brazilian authorities are investigating Kaká’s friendship with the founders of the church. The player, whose real name is Ricardo Izecson dos Santos Leite, donates a portion of his salary to the church every year. Brazilian magazine Carta Capital estimates he hands over approximately $1million – about 10 per cent of his yearly income from the Italian football club.

Estevam and Sonia Hernandes, aged 54 and 50 respectively, founded the church in 1986. While the Brazilian couple are said to be “dismayed and saddened” by the deaths, they cannot return to see the damage for themselves. The Hernandes live in the USA, and face extradition back to Brazil on charges including money laundering.

They are accused of owing millions in unpaid bills and income tax. A request to the US Supreme Court from the Brazilian government for their extradition was suspended three months ago.

Kaká’s links probed

In September, Attorney General Marcelo Batlouni Mendroni wrote to Kaká inquiring about his relationship with the wanted couple. Carta Couple reports that the judge’s questions have not been acknowledged. The player’s spokesman, Diogo Kotscho, says they were never received.

Brazilian police accuse the pair of illicitly using money from their church’s hundreds of thousands of followers, such as Kaká. They have reportedly developed an impressive portfolio of properties in Brazil and the United States, as well as owning the Rede Gospel television network and several radio stations.

They were convicted in 2007 for smuggling $56,000 into Miami, USA, and attempting to launder it.

On Monday, a $150 million deal fell through that would have seen Kaká move from AC Milan to Manchester City.
The English club was due to pay the Brazilian $700,000 a week, which would have made him the world’s best-paid footballer.

Kaká plans to become a priest when he retires from sport.

Jonathan Stibbs for RT