The Kochi Central Police has filed a criminal case against Cardinal George Alencherry, head of the powerful Syro-Malabar church, in a controversial land deal on Monday. He has been accused of selling a piece of prime property for ‘a very low price’ causing losses to the Ernakulam-Angamaly archdiocese, of which he is the head as well.
“The Cardinal has been made the first accused in the case. Charges under sections 120 (B) for criminal conspiracy, 406 for criminal breach of trust and 415 for cheating under the Indian Penal Code have been filed in the case,” a senior police official told Indianexpress.com.
Other accused in the case include Father Joshy Puthuva, Father Sebastian Vadakkumpadan and broker Saju Varghese.
The case was filed against Cardinal Alencherry following the orders of the Kerala High Court to the police. A single bench of Justice Kamal B Pasha had said that prima facie there is evidence to show that the Cardinal and the other priests have committed criminal breach of trust, conspiracy and cheating.
A section of faithful of the Church, which controls 35 dioceses and lakhs of followers across the state, had complained against the cardinal, alleging that the sale of 3.06 acres of land belonging to the Church in Kochi in 2015 should have fetched Rs 27 crore, substantially more than the Rs 9 crore it actually fetched. The role of land mafia in the deal is suspected, they said.
A six-member panel appointed by the archdiocese to look into the land deal had found grave offences allegedly committed by Cardinal Alencherry and other priests. The panel report was subsequently sent to the Vatican.
Several priests within the archdiocese have come out against the cardinal leading to major fissures within the Catholic body. Last week, hundreds of priests in Ernakulam marched to the residence of Cardinal Alencherry to ask him to stay away from his responsibilities in the Church especially when the High Court asked for a criminal case to be filed against him.
In January, during a mass at a church, Cardinal Alencherry had assured believers that the ‘issue will be resolved soon’ in what was considered his first public statement after the controversy came to the fore. “There is no place for divisions among Christians. Certain things occur due to the shortcomings. That will be rectified,” he said.
(With inputs from PTI)