India tax authorities interview cardinal about controversial land deals

India tax authorities interview cardinal about controversial land deals

India tax authorities interview cardinal about controversial land deals

Cardinal George Alencherry of India, major archbishop of the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church. (Credit: Paul Haring/CNS.)

Tax authorities in India have interviewed Cardinal George Alencherry in connection with a series of suspicious land deals that caused the Vatican to send a special administrator into his archdiocese.

Tax authorities in India have interviewed Cardinal George Alencherry in connection with a series of suspicious land deals that caused the Vatican to send a special administrator into his archdiocese.

Alencherry heads the Syro-Malabar Church, the largest Eastern Rite Catholic Church in India.

Last year, the cardinal was accused along with two senior priests and a real estate agent of selling several plots of land illegally, leading to a loss of over $10 million.

Critics said the deal violated both canon and civil law, since the land was sold for well below market value – Indian law forbids the irregular transfer of funds between charitable or religious trusts.

A case against the cardinal was dismissed by the High Court of India’s Kerala state in May.

However, India’s Income Tax Investigation Unit is looking into whether the land deal also involved tax evasion, and interrogated Alencherry for five hours on Thursday.

In June, tax authorities raided the offices of several companies involved in the land deals, although officials said it was directly related to the investigation.

RELATED: Documents detail Vatican crackdown in troubled Indian archdiocese

The cardinal had himself appointed a six-member committee to probe the land deals, which were conducted between April 1, 2015 and November 30, 2017. The committee found that Alencherry had “fully known” and was “involved” in the alienation of the property.

In June, Pope Francis appointed Bishop Jacob Manathodath as Apostolic Administrator of the Archdiocese of Ernakulam-Angamaly, the Mother Church of the Syro-Malabar Church.

Although Alencherry remains the archbishop, he has been stripped of all decision-making authority.

The cardinal has also become embroiled in the case of a nun who has accused a bishop in India’s Punjab state of raping her.

The nun’s family produced an audio recording of Alencherry speaking to her about the case, even though he had denied any previous knowledge of the situation.

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