CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Saturday, 8 December 2018

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Priests suspected of trafficking in India

KERALA (UCAN): Police in the southern Indian state of Kerala say they have intensified their search for Father Stanislaus Theesmas of the Latin-rite Trivandrum archdiocese, who is accused of trafficking nine people to Jordan under the cover of conducting a pilgrimage to the Holy Land.

Jawahar Janardh, the assistant police commissioner, said that Father Theesmas and tour operator, Kiran Mohanan, went missing after the police registered a case against them for human trafficking on August 4.

“We are looking for them. Police registered a case against them after being informed that they took nine people to Jordan after promising them jobs under a pilgrimage visa,” the police officer said.

Immigration officials filed the complaint after the pilgrims and Father Theesmas failed to return to Kerala when their Jordanian visas expired in June.

Janardh said that a preliminary investigation revealed that the pilgrims were working in Jordan and that Father Theesmas had returned to New Delhi on June 29.

Nine of those travelling to Jordan with him are parishioners from a parish where the 49-year-old priest had previously been appointed.

The archdiocese confirmed that it is aware of the human trafficking investigation.

Meanwhile, police were questioning the relatives of those who travelled with him to Jordan. Police said the priest and an agent charged the travellers US$3,100 ($24,009) with the promise of finding work in Jordan.

In 2013, Father Jaison Kollannur, an official with the Kerala Catholic Bishops’ Council, was arrested for trafficking 40 young people to the United States of America under the cover of an international education conference, charging each about US$6,000 ($46,470).

A senior police official in Kerala said that many people who are organising pilgrim visits to Israel are part of human trafficking schemes to Jordan.

 

“We are aware that a mafia is operating in Kerala offering jobs in Israel under the cover of Holy Land visits. Some priests also are working with these shady travel agents. We are keeping a close watch on them,” he said.

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