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India

Indian priest arrested on fraud charges

Priest who accused Bhopal archbishop of poisoning is remanded in custody accused of criminal conspiracy

Indian priest arrested on fraud charges

Father Anand Muttungal faces charges of cheating, forgery, criminal conspiracy and criminal breach of trust. (Photo supplied)

A Catholic priest accused of fraud in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh has been remanded in judicial custody for 15 days.

Father Anand Muttungal of Bhopal Archdiocese was arrested at his residence on Dec. 11 by officials of the Economic Offence Wing (EOW), a special branch of the Madhya Pradesh police that probes economic cases.

He was produced before a special court and remanded in custody until Dec. 26.

Richard James, a spokesman for Father Muttungal, described the priest’s arrest as illegal and arbitrary.

He told ucanews that the priest is a victim of a large conspiracy. “He will come out clean from the charges against him and the real culprits will be exposed,” he said.

James said that he and those supporting the embattled priest have full faith in the judiciary and “he will get justice.”

Father Muttungal, a former spokesman and public relations officer for the nine dioceses in Madhya Pradesh, faces charges including cheating, forgery, criminal conspiracy and criminal breach of trust.

The case was registered against the 47-year-old priest and seven others on Oct. 17 at an EOW police station in state capital Bhopal, more than two years after a complaint was lodged against them by a group of lay persons.

G.G. John and others accused the priest in their complaint in April 2017 of duping 377 persons after promising residential plots through a housing society, St. Jude Colonizers, formed under his initiative as a Catholic public relations officer. The society was formed in 2009.

Other society members named in the forgery case are Roy John Thatta and Vipin Toppo.

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“The priest is the first among eight people named as accused in the first information report despite the fact that he is not a member of the society,” said an EOW official who did not want to be identified.

The police’s preliminary findings accuse the priest, as the archdiocesan public relations officer, of conspiring with Toppo and Thatta, one of his employees, to dupe home buyers.

In 2013, Father Muttungal filed a police complaint alleging that Archbishop Leo Cornelio of Bhopal and two priests had conspired to make him mentally unstable through slow poisoning. The case is still pending before a court.

Archbishop Cornelio told ucanews that the archdiocese has nothing to do with the recent case and accused Father Muttungal of making “a fake case against me and two of my priests.”

He added: “Still I pray for him despite the fact that he keeps accusing me for all disturbances in his life. All these years I have been silently suffering for his misdeeds and the smear campaign he carried out against me.

“I have firm faith in our judiciary. Sooner or later, the truth will come out. In this case, like the fake case against me and other priests, my stand is clear: let truth prevail. If he is innocent, the court will free him.”

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