Asha Charitable Trust collects funds for the education of poor children. (Photo: Pixabay)
A group of Catholics in southern India has accused Bangalore Archdiocese of being party to a multi-million-dollar financial scam linked to overseas donations.
Archbishop Peter Machado of Bangalore denied the allegations and said he was ready to face any probe.
All Karnataka Catholic Christian Association (AKCCA) accused the archdiocese-owned Asha Charitable Trust of misappropriating some 3 billion Indian rupees (US$42 million). It called for a federal probe into its dealings.
“I am open to any probe as I have nothing to hide,” Archbishop Machado told UCA News on Sept. 2.
He was reacting to the demand for an investigation to be conducted by the Enforcement Directorate, a specialized federal agency that investigates financial scams, particularly involving foreign exchange.
The demand for a federal probe came at a press conference that AKCCA organized on Aug. 28 in Bengaluru (formerly Bangalore), capital of Karnataka state.
AKCCA leader Raphael Raj told media that the archdiocese collected money from foreign donations and did not spend it on what it was meant for. “It is a scam worth three billion, and it needs investigation,” he said.
The annual audit revealed irregularities but the archdiocese “continued to remain in denial and did not initiate any action against those guilty,” Raj told UCA News.
Archbishop Machado said those making such allegations are trying “to make a mountain out of a molehill.”
The archdiocese noticed “a manipulation” of some 2 million rupees ($28,000) in July and “initiated action against an official who was behind it.”
Local police are now investigating the matter, the prelate said.
The call for a federal investigation first surfaced on Aug. 18 when retired Karnataka High Court judge Justice Michael Saldanha wrote to the Enforcement Directorate seeking a probe into the “fraud” committed by the trust.
The archdiocesan trust collects funds for educating poor children. “But the archdiocese had diverted the foreign funds meant for charitable purposes for other interests,” Saldanha told UCA News on Aug. 30.
Saldanha wants the Enforcement Directorate to raid the trust office and take charge of all its records since 2008, when the trust began receiving foreign contributions running into millions of rupees for social welfare.
Archbishop Machado said he has “great respect for Justice Saldanha but I don’t know why he levels such allegations without verifying the facts.”
“If we were not transparent, why did we inform the police? Allegations of this magnitude from a person like Saldanha will only tarnish the image of the Church,” he said, stressing their accounts are clean.
“We account for every penny we get. We audit our accounts every year and file income tax returns.”