Kerala Catholic priest held in farm loan scam case

Many of the ‘beneficiaries’ were unaware that loans had been availed in their names

Thiruvananthapuram: A Catholic priest in Kerala, Thomas Peelianickal, was been remanded in custody on Wednesday in connection with a major agricultural loan scam that has left dozens of people in the state’s Kuttanad areas debtors without their knowledge.

The priest was remanded in custody for 14 days by the Ramankari Judicial First Class Magistrate’s Court.

The priest is the executive director of the Kuttanad Development Council, an organisation that is accused of forging documents in the names of scores of farmers in Kuttanad, the traditional rice bowl of Kerala, and taking loans worth millions of rupees from banks.

Many of the ‘beneficiaries’ of the loans taken by the organisation were unaware of the matter, and were shocked to know of it only when they got communication from the banks about the backlog in repayment of the loans that had been availed in their names.

One of the key accused in the case, Rojo Joseph, who is also a Nationalist Congress Party official, has gone into hiding. Joseph’s wife and two office staffers at the Kuttanad Development Council are also accused in the case.

Peelianickal was arrested by a team of Crime Branch police officers from his office on Tuesday. He is facing a dozen cases related to the loan scam, of which he has been granted bail in one case. His lawyer argued that the priest was not directly involved in the matter, and that he had only recommended to banks to disburse loans to agricultural societies that had approached him for funds.

The Crime Branch had summoned him to take his statement a number of times but the priest had failed to show up each time, citing health reasons. On Tuesday, the police arrested him at the offices of the Kuttanad Development Council.

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