August 13, 2021 3:50:21 am
Rejecting petitions by Cardinal George Alencherry, head of the Kerala-based Syro-Malabar Catholic Church, the Kerala High Court on Thursday ordered that he should face trial in all the cases linked to the 2018 Church land scam.
The land scam had rocked the Church in 2018 after an internal probe found that prime properties of the Archdiocese of Ernakulam were alienated for a pittance with the Cardinal’s confidant Saju Varghese allegedly operating as middleman in the dealings, starting from 2015. The Church panel had found that the diocese had lost Rs 90 crore in dealings which allegedly involved black money. All the land dealings were executed by the Cardinal.
On Thursday, a single bench of Justice P Somarajan rejected the Cardinal’s seven petitions against a lower court order, which in 2019 had directed that Alencherry and Varghese should face trial. The lower court had acted upon petitions from worshippers.
The Cardinal is facing offences under IPC Sections 120 B, 406 and 423 read with 34.
The High Court said, “The criminal conspiracy between the petitioner (Cardinal) in connivance with the cohorts and those who purchased the property further becomes more starkly evident from the fact that there is no semblance of any transparency in the alleged sales, though pertains to the property of Church.”
The court said the sale deeds were executed without conducting a public auction or public sale and thereby curtailed the right to derive maximum consideration for the coffers of the Church solely with the purpose of giving the property to certain people at a throwaway price capriciously and at the whims and fancies of the Cardinal.
The court also ordered a probe into the ownership of one of the properties sold by Cardinal, suspecting “whether it is a property owned by the public or the government or it is a puramboke land or a no-man’s land and whether settlement deed was created with the aim to manipulate a document of title over the Government land”.
The Syro-Malabar Catholic Church is one of the 22 Eastern Catholic Churches under Rome. The scandal had triggered a revolt among priests of the archdiocese, and to tide over the crisis, the Synod of the Catholic Church, with the consent of Rome, had removed Alencherry as the administrator of the archdiocese but allowed him to continue as the head of the entire Syro-Malabar Church.
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