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Saturday, February 24, 2024

ED raids Yohannan-run Believers Church in Kerala gold smuggling case

Enforcement Directorate officers raided the headquarters and multiple offices connected to the Believers Church and its leaders in Kerala. The ED raid comes amid allegations that the families of chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan and CPM state secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan had smuggled money abroad through the Believers Church.

The church is currently headed by conman priest Moran Mor Athanasius Yohan I, formerly known as K.P. Yohannan from Kerala, who lives in America. A team of 15 officers took part in the inspection at 8 am on Monday. The operation began in the morning and continued till late in the evening. 

Raids were conducted simultaneously against the offices and homes of various people connected to the church, including its headquarters in Thiruvalla, a hospital run by its medical college, and Yohannan’s residence. Several documents about the financial dealings of the religious institution were also confiscated during the raids. The Church spokesperson was unavailable for comment and refused to speak to the media.

The raid comes a few days after Kerala gold smuggling accused Swapna Suresh and her acquaintance Shaj Kiran named the Believers Church. Swapna alleged that Kiran threatened her to back down from the allegations against Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan and his family in the gold smuggling case. 

To prove her allegation, Swapna released a telephonic conversation with Kiran, in which he had called himself a middleman for the church. Last month, Swapna Suresh submitted her statement before the Magistrate court under Section 164 of CrPC about the gold smuggling case. She alleged the involvement of Vijayan and accused him and his family of smuggling dollars to America through Yohannan and his church.

Kiran is a former journalist based in Kochi whose family had lived in Tiruvalla during his childhood. After ending his journalism career, he went into real estate. He is a shady character who registered five companies between March and May 2019. Kiran’s wife is allegedly still on Yohannan’s’ payroll, and Kiran does the dirty work.

Kiran introduced himself as one of the director board members of the Believers Church Hospital in Tiruvalla.  Swapna claimed that ADGP Vijay Sakhare had spent more than four hours speaking with Kiran to make her withdraw her statement against Vijayan and his family. 

Soon after, Swapna released an audio clip containing his conversation with her both Kiran and his friend Ibrahim vanished. He later resurfaced after allegedly destroying crucial evidence from his mobile phone. 

According to reports, the conversion mafia pumped around Rs.6,000 crores, including new foreign donations and transfers from other local sources in Believers Church. Yohannan was accused of using overseas donations to invest in the real estate industry. The Believers Church’s financial activities at the time were described by the Income Tax Department as the biggest fraud in the nation under the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Amendment Act (FCRA). 

In November 2020, the Income Tax department conducted a similar raid on the church across 66 of its offices in Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Telangana, Punjab, Chandigarh, and Delhi. IT officials seized Rs. 15 crores in currency from various Believers Church offices. That raid led to the seizure of possession certificates and title deeds related to vast tracts of land Yohannan had purchased all over Bharat.

The Deputy Director-General of Income Tax issued notices to Yohannan to appear before it and explain the flow of such huge funds and their utilization. Yohannan claimed inability to travel from Gospel For Asia (another sect based out of the US) headquarters in Texas, US, where he currently resides, and asked the IT department to wait. There was no further action.

In 2017, the Ministry of Home Affairs barred the church and three NGOs associated with it from receiving foreign funds and canceled their registrations under the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Amendment Act (FCRA).

In March 2021, the IT Department attached the 2000 acres Cheruvally Estate in Kerala owned by Yohannan. The land includes the proposed site for another controversial project of the communist government in Kerala, aimed at further disrupting the Sabarimala temple customs by building an airport near the temple.

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