KOCHI: The land deal row involving the Ernakulam-Angamaly Archdiocese of the Syro-Malabar Church has become the talking point once again after the report of a private audit firm surfaced on Friday. Soon after the 2019 report by KPMG Forensic came to light, laity activists demanded civil and legal proceedings on the issue and sought action against Cardinal George Alencherry, the head of the diocese. The confidential report says that an inquiry has found a lack of transparency in the appointment of agents in the land deals. The report was then submitted to the Vatican by the Apostolic Administrator of the Archdiocese, Mar Jacob Manathodath.
The private agency was appointed to audit the financial transactions related to specific land deals executed by the office-bearers during the April 2013-March 2018 period. The report states that requisite approvals from canonical bodies were not obtained during the land transaction and that there was no rationale for the average rate decided for the sale of land. “No independent valuation was carried out at the time of sale, no communication was made to the Canonical Bodies on sale of land at a rate lower than the agreed upon rate and approval of sale deeds were made without adequate review. Further, no background checks were conducted on the buyers and there were delays in collections from the sale of the land.
A portion of the sale consideration was received from individuals who were not buyers of the land as per the sale deed and was adjusted against the sale consideration due from other buyers,” the agency said in the report.
It also mentioned that, during discussion, the Cardinal accepted that requisite approvals from canonical bodies were not obtained and a feasibility study was not performed for the medical college project. The Archdiocesan Movement for Transparency (AMT), a laity organisation, alleged that, as per the report, the Cardinal asked the middleman in the land deals to invest `10 crore in Deepika daily.
“Also, promises were made to make him the chairman of the daily. Saju Varghese, the middleman involved in the land deals, is a benami of the Cardinal and therefore actions in line with the Indian civil law must be taken against him for financial misappropriation. The Cardinal’s interactions with the real estate agent Saju is also mentioned in the report,” said AMT spokesperson Riju Kanjookaran said in a statement.
The Syro-Malabar Church has not reacted officially on the issue. Despite repeated attempts, the church officials were unavailable for comment on the latest developments. However, sources said the church is of the view that the report in question was prepared by a private agency and hence has no legal validity. Sources said that the report cannot be considered as the whole truth as it has been compiled through discussions with various persons by the private entity and not through any legal process.