Mumbai: Former Justice of the Bombay High Court and Karnataka High Court Michael Saldanha has written a ‘Priority – Most Urgent’ note to the Enforcement Directorate (ED) to investigate a fraud committed by Asha Charitable Trust which is headed by the Archbishop of Bengaluru Dr Peter Machado.
The Former Justice Michael Saldanha in his letter to ED has stated the following:
- I am officially placing before you a screenshot relating to a fraud committed by the Asha Charitable Trust which is headed by the Archbishop of Bengaluru. I am applying to the Enforcement Directorate to raid the office and take charge of all the records because the admitted position is that since the year 2008 this Trust has been receiving foreign contributions running into hundreds of crores ostensibly for social welfare. As is the case with all our so called Welfare Institutions they are beyond scrutiny by the Revenue Authorities because they have all been registered as Charitable Trusts under Section 80G. Irrespective of the fact that these massive sums of money are received by them, they do not contribute even Re. 1/- to the exchequer. It is the universal experience that all these so-called Religious Bodies only ask for donations, but do not render any money to deserving charities. The Catholic Community consists of 23% below poverty line members and another 54% persons who come under the category of poor and needy, but who do not receive any help of the type that they deserve. There is neither logic nor justification for this tax exemption because every citizen is required to contribute towards the national effort, but this is a special privileged class of the Catholic Church Clergy who pay no taxes and who cannot be questioned. Experience has shown that it is dangerous to question them because they will hit back even physically and socially ostracize the persons who get virtually finished. It is only in the recent past that a few individuals and organizations have dared to question these atrocities which are covered up by the culprits. That is the reason why an independent professional examination by the Enforcement Directorate is essential in the public interest.
- I do not dispute the fact that as a front many of these Institutions do not only good but excellent work, which is expected of them, but a large amount of the money is siphoned out and my investigation over 40 years in this class of cases that it is this massive amount of black money which is grossly misused.
- Just one recent scandal. A very highly influential Catholic Priest, according to the media reports constructed a house for himself in Bengaluru valued at over Rs. 50 Crores and during the height of the lockdown, in rank defiance of the law invited all the bigwigs for an opulent ‘Griha Parvesham Party’ – from the present and past Archbishops downwards. The citizens were banned from leaving their houses, but the law did not apply to this exalted category. It turned out to be a disaster because the Priest himself died of Corona within a few days and so did his brother and we do not know the fate of the others who attended the party, except that it was flashed in the media that one of the Archbishops who was Corona Positive was hospitalized for 14 days. Where this quantity of money comes from is no secret because there are the Institutions by the thousands in this country from where the money is siphoned out.
- There is a familiar pattern which the Church follows. If a fraud of this type is reported, some small employee who has no fighting power is accused and the Institution itself files a police complaint. The local police are paid well to object to bail, the poor victim is tortured in custody and sometime dies, but ALWAYS, is made to record a confession that the funds were misappropriated by him and were spent on gambling and other vices and cannot be refunded and I have personally witnessed cases where the complaints are withdrawn after such written confessions, on the ground that the Church believes in mercy and forgiveness. In one such case, pursuant to media reports, I visited the victim in jail. The old man was on his death-bed due to the torture and had been taken before the Magistrate and a confession recorded, after which he died because of the torture. It subsequently transpired that this allegation was false because the laity of the area revealed that the amount of Rs. 88 Lakhs had been given to the mistress of a highly placed member of the Church. That case was hushed up and the culprit was transferred.
- Another familiar pattern with the Church is that an inhouse so-called enquiry is held for which a panel of committed members of the Clergy are appointed. Alongwith them there are a number of lay persons who include professionals, all of whom are sharers in the loot and every such enquiry ends with a clean chit to the Trust and to those who run it. In this case also, the same pattern is being followed.
- I work closely with the Central Government and our Prime Minister has been struggling to end corruption of this level and I am happy to say that the Enforcement Directorate has been doing an excellent job in ruthlessly prosecuting those responsible. The earlier pattern was that the Church which is the country’s biggest and richest landlord and which runs thousands of Institutions which are gold mines, always uses bribery, corruption, influence and cover-ups and one of their favourite methods is to suppress these scandals by using similar influences on the media.
- I am only relaying to the Enforcement Directorate the request from a large number of aggrieved persons, many of whom do not subscribe to corruption of this level that the Enforcement Directorate should investigate this case thoroughly – a local police station is not competent to do so. They have their limitations and can confine the charges, if any to the Indian Penal Code. The Enforcement Directorate is a special organization empowered to investigate financial transactions relating to foreign exchange and inter-related monetary deals which hurt and damage this country and constitute anti-national activities. This case qualifies for such an investigation and the special request is to guard against influences and cover-ups. As a citizen of India I am doing my duty by requesting that the law be set in motion. As the news report states, there is an organization which has investigated into this matter and they will be able to provide the Enforcement Directorate with basic information.
- It is requested that the matter be taken up with a degree of speed. Also, the notion that Priests and Bishops are Men of God and that they do not commit offences is a myth. The majority of them are good people, but the media is flooded with reports of the other category, particularly from the State of Kerala, Bengaluru and even worse than Bengaluru, in Mysuru. There is no immunity under the law for this class of people. The law will not harm those who are good, but those who are not cannot claim any immunity.
- I wish to conclude by pointing out that only once, some years back I had referred a case to the Enforcement Directorate, Bengaluru and despite a lot of influence and pressure the officers of Enforcement Directorate brought the culprits to book. That is the confidence with which this case is referred.