The Madras High Court on Thursday dismissed a habeas corpus petition seeking the release of a parish priest, who had allegedly sexually-abused a 14-year-old girl in the US, and who is now lodged in Tihar Jail in New Delhi.

A Division Bench comprising Justices V. Dhanapalan and C.T. Selvam passed the order on a petition by one P. Pushpavathy, challenging an order of the Ministry of External Affairs, of March 8, 2011, requesting the Additional Chief Metropolitan Magistrate, Patiala House Courts, New Delhi, to inquire into the request for extradition of the petitioner’s brother, Joseph Palanivel Jeyapaul, to the US.

To facilitate the inquiry, an arrest warrant against Jeyapaul, who was wanted by the US authorities for alleged “criminal sexual conduct in the first degree”, under that country’s laws, was necessitated. The warrant was necessary as he was not available for the inquiry.

The petitioner said Jeyapaul was incardinated to the Catholic Diocese of Ootacamund and was ordained a priest in May 1982. He served as Assistant Parish Priest in St. John De Britto Church, Sathyamangalam, Erode district, from 1982 to 1983 and became a parish priest in 1985.

On an invitation to serve at the Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church in Greenbush, Roseau Country for three years, he left for USA in August 2004 but returned to India in August 2005, as his mother was critically ill.

Under these circumstances, the MEA issued the impugned order. Following that, an application was filed before the Additional Chief Metropolitan Magistrate, for arresting Jeyapaul. He was arrested on March 16, 2012 at Chimitahalli in Erode district and remanded to custody and lodged in Tihar Jail. Hence, the present petition.

Mr. Justice Dhanapalan said while the parish priest was in the US, he was alleged to have sexually-abused a 14-year-old girl. The fugitive accused had been arrested pursuant to a warrant issued by the magistrate.

A reading of the MEA’s order made it clear that it was the Centre which made the request to the Additional CMM to inquire into the matter. The course adopted by the Ministry could not be termed ‘detention’, much less ‘illegal detention’. This was a matter which concerned countries under the treaty which provided for certain obligations on the extraditing country to look into, under the relevant provisions of the law.

The procedure had been followed and the MEA’s order was in accordance with law, the Judge said.

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