In a major victory for those who have been fighting to expose irregularities in a land scam of the Ernakulam-Angamaly archdiocese of the Syro Malabar Church in which Cardinal Mar George Alencherry is also allegedly involved, the Thrikkakkara Magistrate Court on Tuesday took cognisance of the plea.
Based on a private complaint filed by Joshy Varghese, the court observed that the irregularities stand prima facie. Joshy has filed six private complaints on six different lad deals in which the accused are the same.
The court will also send notices to the Cardinal and two others- archdiocese procurator Father Joshy Puthuva and Saju Varghese who is a mediator in the land deal.
Joshy was the third person moving the court against the powerful church.
Shine Varghese, who had been at the forefront in exposing the scam, was the first one to move the court.
The court rejected Shineâ€™s plea on the ground that the petitioner moved court within 24 hours of lodging the complaint with the police.
The second petition had been moved by Advocate Polachan Pauthupara, Vice Chairman of Joint Christian Council. The Ernakulam Chief Judicial Magistrate Court had rejected Advocate Polchanâ€™s petition against which he moved the High Court.
â€śBoth the petitions were rejected on technical grounds and not because the case lacked merit. At the High Court, three judges recused themselves from hearing the case and it has been before the fifth judge. Now I am planning to withdraw my petition as more petitions in the same case wonâ€™t stand legally,â€ť Advocate Polachan told TNM.
He added that it is a big victory for those who fought to expose the irregularities. â€śIn a private complaint, a court would record the statements of the witnesses and collect evidence even without the police registering a case. Now the court has ordered to send notices to the accused and it has observed that there is evidence. The cardinal and two others will need to get bail to evade arrest. They are likely to move the HC soon,â€ť he added.
In December 2017, allegations were raised by members of the Save Archdiocese Campaign (SAC) that the church had incurred huge losses by selling the land owned by it for lower prices.
The sale of the land was presented as a move to get over the debt the church had incurred after buying land at Mattur in Ernakulam to build a medical college under its ownership.
The irregularities had been exposed by the SAC, a forum that stands for corrections within the church. Even priests attached to the church are members in it.
In January 2018, the SAC formed the Save Archdiocesan Movement for Transparency (SAMT) with several ordinary believers as well as members, to fight for justice on the issue. They had even organised several protests for the archdiocese to take corrective steps, but in vain. Joshy Varghese is also a part of SAMT.
The allegation against the Cardinal, archdiocese procurator Father Joshy Puthuva is that there were financial irregularities which resulted in a huge loss for the Archdiocese in buying and selling land. The land deals were also conducted without consultation with anyone who is holding responsible positions. Saju Varghese, a real estate dealer, facilitated the deals.
The Archdiocese in 2016 had sold a three acre piece of land in Kochi to repay Rs 60 crore bank loan. The loan was availed to buy land at Mattur in Ernakulam to construct a medical college, though the decision to build medical college was quashed by Alencherryâ€™s predecessor.
After the irregularities had been exposed, a controversy arose. The AMT later exposed another deal, alleging that the Cardinal re-registered a house and six cents of land worth Rs 1 crore in Kochi in the name of his brotherâ€™s family.