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Indian bishop jailed for fraud: The Church of England Newspaper, October 7, 2012 p October 8, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Church of North India, Corruption.
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Church of St John the Baptist (Afghan Memorial Church) in Bombay

The former Bishop of Pune has been jailed and several other serving and retired Church of North India bishops are accused of complicity in a scheme to sell churches to property developers and pocket the cash.

Last month the Bombay High Court ordered the Rt Rev Vijay Sathe to be remanded into custody on charges of fraud, forgery and breach of trust for allegedly seeking to sell the Afghan Memorial Church in Bombay to property developers and pocketing the proceeds.

The former bishops of Bombay, Pune and Gujarat are also being sought by police.

Prosecutors claim that up to a dozen senior church leaders who acted as trustees to a shell corporation alleged to have been created to divert church properties into private hands may be implicated in the scheme.

In their application to the court, prosecutors asked the bishop to be jailed to prevent his flight after a search of his home unearthed evidence it believed incriminated Bishop Sathe. A bail hearing was set for last Monday, 1 October 2012.

An investigation by the Maharashtra state charity commissioner found there was an ongoing pattern of fraud in the sale of church lands in Bombay. In a report dated April 18, 2009, VR Patil, the Maharashtra law and judiciary department’s legal adviser, found that a “bogus” corporation entitled the Bombay Diocesan Trust Association Private Limited had been created to “grab the properties of genuine Christian trusts” — the Bombay Diocesan Trust Association Limited (BDTA) and the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel (SPG) in the Diocese of Bombay.

“The bogus trustees indulged in many illegal activities to grab the property of BDTA Ltd and SPG by taking advantage of the similarity in the name of the bogus trust with the complainant’s trust,” the Patil report said.

In 2004 the BDTA Private Limited group presented an application to the charity commissioners to redevelop the Afghan Memorial Church – a former Church of Scotland church built to honour the dead of the First Afghan War. The colonial church was in need of structural repair and was also located in what was now the heart of the city’s commercial district. In 2008 lay church activists filed a complaint with the charity commission saying BDTA Private Limited was not the owner of the church, the BDTA was. They also argued that under Indian law churches built on cantonment land – land set aside during the British colonial era for military purposes – reverted to the control of the government if they were no longer used for religious purposes.

Lawyers for the BDTA Private Limited trustees responded to the charge by bringing a charge of criminal liability against the lay activists and sought to lift an injunction against development imposed by the charity commissioners. However, in August 2012 the charity commissioners finalized their ruling and directed the courts and police to investigate the BDTA Private Limited trustees for fraud.

First printed in The Church of England Newspaper.

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