The Enforcement Directorate (ED) has launched a money-laundering probe against Cardinal George Alencherry, Major Archbishop of the Syro-Malabar Church, in a case related to a series of land deals executed by the archdiocese to settle a loan of Rs Rs.58.2 Crores obtained from South Indian Bank.
The deals are all about selling 3.06 acres of land under possession of Ernakulam-Angamaly archdiocese in Kochi district of Kerala. The land sold between April 2013-March 2018 was expected to fetch Rs 27 Crores to the archdiocese but it could get only Rs 9 Crores. The property situated near Bharat Mata College at Thrikkakkara was sold to a real-estate broker Saju Varghese Kunnel.
The ED has registered an ECIR (equivalent to FIR) based on an already existing FIR registered by the local police. The agency is learned to have summoned Joshy Varghese for his appearance on October 28 to record his statement, who is among the complainants in the case.
The ED is probing whether money laundering was involved in the deal. The ED has concrete grounds to launch the probe which will further bring serious problems for George Alencherry who is also the head of Ernakulam-Angamaly Archdiocese.
The Income-Tax Department had slapped a fine of Rs 3.5 crore as the probe revealed that while executing the deals, the diocese showed the price of land much lower than the existing market rate.
The ED has decided to take up the probe after the Kerala High Court on August 12 dismissed all seven petitions filed by Cardinal Alencherry seeking to quash the cases. George Alencherry, who is considered the most powerful religious head in South India, tried his best by using his influences and fought prolonged legal battles to save his skin.
It was Joshy Varghese who had filed a complaint in 2018 before the Judicial First Class Magistrate, Kakkanad alleging commission of offences under Section 120 B, 406, 409, 418, 420, 423, 465, 467, 468 and 34 IPC against George Alencherry and another. The lower court took cognizance of the offence under Section 120 B, 406, 423 and 34 of IPC.
The Syro-Malabar Catholic Church is one of the 22 Eastern Catholic Churches under Rome and it is said to have around 55 lakh followers. The scandal triggered unrest among priests of the archdiocese. Even the internal inquiry by the church in this matter had revealed gross criminal misconduct by Alencherry and other church officials.