The head of the Mormon church in the US has been summoned to appear at a British magistrates' court on suspicion of fraud, with disaffected ex-Mormons claiming they were deceived into believing the Book of Mormon.
The alleged victims say the Church had duped them into believing that the Book of Abraham was translated by a Mormon prophet Joseph Smith, that Native Americans are descended from a group of Israelites, and that human beings have only been around for 6,000 years, descended from two people.
Thomas Monson, leader of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Utah, has been sent two separate summons to appear at Westminister magistrates, with victims of the alleged fraud named as Stephen Colin Bloor and one on behalf of Christopher Denis Ralph.
Monson has shown no interest in answering the call to appear at a March 14 hearing in London, but it is possible that the case could be referred to Southwark Crown Court, with a warrant being issued for his arrest if he does not attend.
The criminal complaint, lodged under the Fraud Act, was submitted by ex-Mormon bishop Tom Philips. He now runs a website called MormonThink, critiquing the church.
The summonses were issued by Judge Elizabeth Roscoe, and published on Philips' site.
The alleged victims say they were conned into paying 10% of their income to the church, because of the "fraudulent" claims by the Church.
"The Church occasionally receives documents like this that seek to draw attention to an individual's personal grievances or to embarrass Church leaders. These bizarre allegations fit into that category," Eric Hawkins, a spokesman at Church headquarters in Salt Lake City, told USA Today.
Neil Addison, a former crown prosecutor told the paper he was astonished the claim had reached this stage. "I think the British courts will recoil in horror. This is just using the law to make a show, an anti-Mormon point. And I'm frankly shocked that a magistrate has issued it."
Phillips' complaint is based on the Fraud Act of 2006, a British law that prohibits false representations made to secure a profit, or to cause someone to lose money. Conviction may carry a prison sentence of up to 10 years.
The summonses were signed on 31 January by Judge Elizabeth Roscoe. Westminster Magistrates' Court told HuffPost UK the documents posted on MormonThink were the authentic summons.
The Mormon Church, the spiritual home of Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, has more than 15 million members worldwide.
The Church members' believe that its founder Joseph Smith discovered an additional text to the Bible, brought to New York by ancient Israelites.
Phillips' claim lists seven Church teachings he believes are fraudulent, including this discovery made by Smith.
"At last the President of the Church, whom members sustain as a prophet, seer and revelator, will have the opportunity to explain at least seven statements of fact, although there are many other serious issues that members want answered as well," Philips wrote on his website, under the summons.
"The allegations maintain these specific statements are untrue and this will be demonstrated in court by renowned expert witnesses.
"President Monson, if he agrees to take the stand, will have to prove these statements are true and, if true, not misleading. At last we may finally have the answers to these troubling issues or a formal admission that they are indeed untrue."