Mormon Church was penalized for allegedly hiding a $32 billion investment fund

Salt Lake City, Utah's Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints temple

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS), also known as the Mormon Church, and its investment firm will each pay $5 million (£4 point 1 million) to settle claims that they concealed a sizable stockpile of shares.

The US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) claimed that the LDS and its investment company, Ensign Peak Advisers, used "shell" companies to conceal a $32 billion stock portfolio.

The Church will pay $1 million and Ensign Peak will pay a $4 million fine.

No one has made an admission of guilt.

Gurbir Grewal, the director of the SEC's division of enforcement, said in a statement, "We allege that the LDS church's investment manager, with the church's knowledge, went to great lengths to avoid disclosing the church's investments, depriving the commission and the investing public of accurate market information.".

The financial markets watchdog claimed that the Church and Ensign Peak had used shell companies to hide their growing share investments, which had topped $30 billion in 2018, out of concern that they might generate bad press.

The SEC's disclosure gave a unique perspective on how Ensign Peak allegedly attempted to conceal a sizeable portion of the Mormon Church's investments.

According to the regulator, the Salt Lake City-based adviser, which was established by the LDS in 1997, established 13 shell companies with locations across the US.

The shell companies, not Ensign Peak, submitted quarterly investment disclosures to the SEC between 1997 and 2019, it continued.

A shell company is a legal entity with no running commercial operations. These firms can be used to hide ownership of a company from authorities or the general public.

More than 30,000 congregations in 160 countries are home to more than 16 million members of the Church.

For the Mormon Church, Ensign Peak is said to oversee a total of at least $100 billion.

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