A crack down by the Income Tax Department on the Thiruvalla-based Believers Eastern Church has allegedly brought to light several irregularities, including real estate transactions, involving unaccounted cash payments and routing of unaccounted funds.
Officials said unexplained cash of approximately ₹6 crore was recovered during the searches, which also included ₹3.85 crore from a place of worship in Delhi. The action, which took place on November 5, covered 66 locations across Kerala, Tamil Nadu, West Bengal, Karnataka, Chandigarh, Punjab and Telengana.
An official statement said the searches followed credible information that the group had received donations from foreign countries ostensibly for helping the poor and the destitute and for evangelical purposes. It, however, was actually siphoning off such tax-exempted funds in cash to engage in unaccounted transactions for personal and other illegal expenses.
The church, according to the statement, operates about 30 trusts that are registered across the country.
“It has been found that the modus operandi of the group is to systematically inflate expenses with the help of other parties, who would return the inflated amount in cash through domestic hawala channels to the functionaries of the group. Some of these other parties were also covered in the search action. During the search, evidences have been found of systematic inflation of expenses in purchase of consumables, construction expenses, real estate development expenses, payment of salary, etc,” the statement said.
The raids also unearthed substantial electronic computing and data storage, which is being examined. Further investigations are also on.
The church spokesperson, meanwhile, was not available for a comment despite multiple attempts.