South-Africa based preacher, Shepherd Bushiri, has skipped bail in South Africa and fled the country.
The preacher, who had previously said he wanted to clear his name, has now returned to his home country, Malawi, with his wife Mary.
Earlier this month they were released on bail after being charged with fraud and money laundering.
He said there had been attempts on his life and he accused the South African authorities of not offering protection.
Mr Bushiri described his decision to skip bail as “a tactical withdrawal meant to preserve lives” while speaking to supporters on social media on Saturday.
Observers fear the issue could cause a diplomatic spat between Malawi and South Africa – as questions are being asked about how Mr Bushiri and his wife managed to leave.
There had been allegations that Mr Bushiri fled on Malawi’s presidential jet with President Lazarus Chakwera – something that has been denied by Mr Chakwera’s office.
There are also questions over whether the two countries will co-operate over bringing the couple back to South Africa.
South Africa’s Justice Minister Ronald Lamola said the government would not hesitate to move to extradite fugitives.
He stated in a tweet that the two countries have previously promised to send back fugitives as part of the Southern Africa Development Community extradition agreement.
But Malawi’s Foreign Affairs minister Eisenhower Mkaka wouldn’t be drawn on the issue.
He told the BBC’s Nomsa Maseko that it is the duty of the government to protect all Malawians but added that President Chakwera is a staunch advocate of the rule of law and that all diplomatic channels will remain open.
Who is Shepherd Bushiri?
Controversial millionaire preacher Mr Bushiri has been referred to as one of the richest religious leaders in Africa.
He says he has cured people of HIV, made the blind see, changed the fortunes of the impoverished and, on at least one occasion, appeared to walk on air.
He grew up in Mzuzu, a city in northern Malawi and moved to Pretoria in South Africa where he leads his church – the Enlightened Christian Gathering.
He is so popular that he has been known to fill sports stadiums with followers.
But has also been accused of preying on poor people, desperate to improve their lives, by selling merchandise including “miracle oil”.
The authorities in Botswana shut down his church after it claimed that money could be summoned out of nothing, which contravened financial regulations.
What is he accused of?
Mr Bushiri is accused of money laundering, fraud and the contravention of the Prevention of Organised Crime Act along with his wife and three others. The case is thought to involve millions of dollars.
How far along is his trial?
He appeared at Pretoria’s Magistrates Court on 21 October to hear the charges and was granted bail on 4 November. The trial is expected to start in May.
Source: BBC News