In what has come as relief for Syro-Malabar head Cardinal Mar George Alencherry, a division bench of the Kerala High Court stayed the order of a single bench, which had directed the police to register an FIR against him and three others in the controversial land deal case.
The court also stayed further action by the police, which had registered a case against the Cardinal and others based on the single bench orders. The case will now come up for hearing on April 3.
The matter pertains to a petition filed by Shine Varghese â€“ who has been fighting to expose land deals by the Archdiocese, which he says were conducted without any transparency, and cost crores of rupees to the Church, and also loss of tax money to the government.
The Ernakulam Archdiocese in 2016 had sold a three-acre piece of land in Kochi to repay a Rs 60 crore bank loan it had earlier taken to buy land in Maddur in Ernakulam, to construct a medical college. The agent appointed by the church to facilitate the deal had estimated the value of the land at Rs 27.30 crore, but priests and local people claimed that the property's real value was at least Rs 80 crore.
The allegations raised by the Save Archdiocese Campaign, a forum in which most of diocese priests are members, is that the church had incurred huge losses by selling the land owned by it for lower prices. While the Cardinal and the diocese defended the allegations, the Campaign moved on to further measures, despite being under pressure for coming out against one of the most powerful Christian group of the state.
Speaking to TNM, Shine Varghese, the petitioner, however, said that the stay doesnâ€™t imply that there was substance in his petition.
â€śThere is nothing alarming in the order. Since the matter is sub-judice, I am not supposed to comment about on it,â€ť Shine said.
George Alencherry is the supreme authority of the Ernakulam-Angamaly diocese of the Church, one among the powerful churches in the state.
On March 6, the single bench of the Kerala High Court directed the police to book Cardinal and the others. The court on that day observed that the Cardinal is not King, but one who should obey the law of the land. It said that based on the documents submitted by the petitioner, the betrayal and financial manipulations of the deal were evident.
On March 12, the Ernakulam Central police registered a case against the Cardinal, Archdiocese procurator Father Joshy Puthuva, Father Sebastian Vadakumpadan and Saju Varghese, who acted as the middleman for the Archdiocese in the land deals.
They were booked under IPC Sections 120B (criminal conspiracy), 406 (criminal breach of trust) and 415 (cheating and deceiving any person fraudulently or dishonestly). The Cardinal later filed an appeal against the court order.