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Shaming the Tiger
Reviewers on Amazon and posters on martial arts bulletin boards have long suspected that Taming the Tiger, the dramatic Christian conversion story of Tony Anthony, who claims to be a kung fu world champion, is a fake. But now an inquiry led by the Evangelical Alliance has agreed with them. Gavin Drake, who has independently investigated the story, reports.

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IN THE PAST FEW MONTHS, the Evangelical Alliance has been investigating claims that a best-selling author and prison evangelist fabricated his dramatic life-story. Yesterday (12 July) they issued a joint statement with the trustees of the evangelist's charity, Avanti Ministries, saying that his story is false.

Tony Anthony and trustees from the Essex-based global evangelism charity Avanti gave evidence to the three-man inquiry panel, which was launched after it was claimed that his autobiography, on which the charity is based, was built on fantasy and plagiarism.

Tony Anthony's Taming the Tiger, distributed in the UK through the Christian publisher Authentic Media, has sold more than 1.5 million copies in 25 countries. On the back of it, Anthony travels the world preaching the gospel in prisons, schools and churches as far away as Asia, South Africa and South America.

In the book, Anthony says he was taken to China by his grandfather, a kung fu grand master, at the age of four. He was trained in the martial arts and became kung fu world champion three times. He then moved to Cyprus, becoming an elite bodyguard to businessmen, gangsters and diplomats before being jailed in Nicosia Central Prison for a series of thefts from hotels. It was in prison that Tony Anthony says he became a Christian.

Questions have been asked about the authenticity of Taming the Tiger ever since it was first published in 2004. Critics were quick to point out that it reads like a work of fiction; and now an intensive investigation by a group of church leaders suggests that it is exactly that.


THE INVESTIGATION BEGAN after Mike Hancock resigned from his post as a director of Avanti Ministries Ltd, the charitable company set up by Anthony to support his work. Hancock had asked for proof of Tony Anthony's claims but was met with evasion.

"I understood that I had a moral and ethical responsibility to ensure that his story could be thoroughly verified. I was unable to persuade my fellow directors of the need to do this. I therefore resigned from Avanti and pursued the search for truth with other like-minded Christians," Hancock said.

He, together with another former Avanti director and a small, informal group of concerned church leaders, set about investigating Tony Anthony's background. Their findings were presented to the trustees of Avanti, the Evangelical Alliance and Authentic Media.

As a result of the evidence obtained by the church leaders, the Evangelical Alliance launched its formal inquiry at the request of Avanti. The informal investigators began by rebutting claims made by Anthony in his book.

One of the long-standing objections raised about Tony Anthony's story is that there is no record, anywhere, to support claims that he won any kung fu competition, let alone that he was three-times world champion. Anthony attempts to deal with this criticism on his website (the grammatical errors are the website's own):

"The competitions that Tony Anthony took part in are over 200 years old – and they are derived from the lineage of 'Gong So' who goes back to the Manchu Dynasty. These competitions are held in mainland China and as they are so specialised Tony Anthony have not known them to be publicised outside of the relevant circles, which is another reason why Tony Anthony doubt very much that you would ever find these competitions advertised on a Google search engine."

But scrutiny of the book's text reveals that many of the passages detailing kung fu techniques were copied wholesale from a specialist martial arts website. One passage is lifted from a book about Bruce Lee.

The investigators went further: Tony Anthony claims to have worked as an elite bodyguard to "a number of wealthy jet-setting clients" before becoming "first hand man" and close protection officer to the Saudi Arabian Ambassador to London, Amin Fahed. But there is no record of any Saudi Arabian diplomat called Amin Fahed. The Saudi ambassador to London at the time was Sheikh Nasser Almanqour.

Tony Anthony has long blamed the discrepancies on "western naivety" for not understanding that some details would be changed because of the "underworld and criminal nature" of his pre-conversion activities.

But Tony Anthony's story really came apart when the investigators discovered his true identity: he was born Andonis Andreou Athanasiou on 30 July 1971 in London's University College Hospital. Tony Anthony has now confirmed that this is his true identity.

But he has not explained how he could have been leading five-man security teams, checking hotel rooms for IEDs, engaging in James Bond-style high-speed gun-toting chases through the streets of Riyadh and using kung fu kicks to overpower armed kidnappers in Switzerland when he could only have been aged 13-14 or 16-17, depending on which version of the book you read.


HAVING ESTABLISHED his true identity, the investigators discovered that Tony Anthony could not have been taken to China by his kung fu grandfather when he was four. Anthony's grandfather was a laundry worker in Cardiff who later owned a café in Streatham. He died seven years before Anthony was born.

Anthony also claims in his book that his father was Italian. In fact he was a Cypriot who anglicised the family name from Athanasiou to Anthony.

Tony Anthony's deception isn't restricted to his book. When he married his wife Sara in Rayleigh United Reformed Church, Southend, in 1995, he claimed he was 25 years old, but he was actually just 23.

He used his correct date of birth on official records when he registered Avanti Ministries Ltd in 2003; but two years later he submitted a change of details form to Companies House amending his birth year to 1969.

A spokesman for Companies House said they would assume the change was to correct a previous mistake, saying: "We accept all documents in good faith and would not actively pursue them to confirm it was correct information."

The investigators sent their findings to Anthony's publishers. In the US, Baker Publishing dropped plans to publish a re-telling of Anthony's story, saying: "We do not plan to publish Burning Tiger at this time. The reasons for that decision are between the publisher and author."

Anthony's UK publisher, the ironically named Authentic Media, said earlier this month that it had not seen the inquiry's report. Today, after the EA and Avanti published their joint statement, they withdrew Taming the Tiger from sale on their website.


IN PUBLIC PRESENTATIONS, Tony Anthony continues to claim he was taken to China by his grandfather, despite admitting in response to the informal investigation that he was taken by "a distant relative" as part of a "complex family arrangement".

He pulled out of an interview in March, requesting instead that questions were put to him in writing. In response, he declined to say why he used a fraudulent date of birth when he got married or why he changed his date of birth with Companies House.

Anthony has also not replied to fresh questions put to him on Thursday this week, but in an interview with Premier Christian Radio yesterday (12 July), he said, defiantly: "I wish this could have been as people portray it: a situation where some concerned people come along to ask some questions and we can then try to promptly offer a response and work through it."

He claimed instead that the criticisms against him were a "stern attack" and an attempt to destroy his ministry and dismantle Avanti.

Anthony told Premier Radio that "these are inconsequential inaccuracies in many ways... that in no way undermine the truth of my story," and said that he was working on a revised version of the book to correct the account.

But the joint Avanti and Evangelical Alliance statement is more forthright. It says: "The panel... concluded, based on the evidence submitted to it, that large sections of the book Taming the Tiger, and associated materials, which claim to tell the true story of Tony Anthony's life, do not do so.

"Both the Evangelical Alliance and Avanti Ministries take serious note of the findings of the report and as a result Avanti has concluded that it is not appropriate to continue to support Taming the Tiger."

Geoff Elliott, the other former Avanti trustee who took part in the church leaders' investigation, said: "Tony Anthony's reaction and response to a well-intentioned and sensible suggestion about how directors of Avanti could validate his testimony without allowing confidential and personal information to be made public strengthened my conviction that something was not right.

"I am sad at the extent of the deception and that this has impacted many people over the last 10 years; and concerned that when the truth comes out, as it undoubtedly will, this lack of truthfulness will damage the faith of those people who have been led to faith by Tony and his testimony."

Mike Hancock, commented: "Many have received the dramatic elements of Tony's testimony in good faith believing that it must have been verified as true. They have a right to know that it has never been verified. The evidence that has been uncovered does not verify his story."

Another member of the investigation team, the Revd Carl Chambers, leader of Christ Church in Brighton, said: "I am deeply saddened that Tony should have been able to continue for so long in his deceit. I firmly believe that Jesus Christ rose from the dead – that is the truth. It is hypocritical for an evangelist therefore to fabricate stories about himself whilst proclaiming the truth."

And David Buick, a French-based prison chaplain, who also took part in the investigation, said: "I became concerned that somebody speaking in schools and prisons worldwide about their transformed life could be making much of their story up, and decided to find out more. For followers of Jesus, love and truth are supposed to go hand in hand. Checking out fantastic claims is a vital part of genuine faith, and our findings show how important it is that we do just that."

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This article was originally published on CrossWire, a faith-based news and features service run by Gavin Drake, and is used by permission
 
gavin drake
Gavin Drake is a writer and broadcaster who specialises in issues of religion and law. He was director of communications for the Bishop and Diocese of Lichfield until 2011.
   
 
 

 

 
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