The Church of South India (CSI), a branch of the Anglican Communion, is being investigated by India's Serious Fraud Investigation Office (SFIO) over alleged financial irregularities.
The Indian Economic Times [ET] reported that audits found discrepancies in the books of the Church of South India Trust Association.
CSI is managed by a group of bishops – the Synod – which oversees the affairs of 23 dioceses and carries out charitable work in more than 16,000 villages. The Church has 24 dioceses and claims membership of more than 4 million. It denies any wrongdoing.
The Registrar of Companies (RoC) has reportedly found that the Church was not listing its properties or providing a clear picture of its accounts.
An anonymous official at the headquarters of the SFIO based in Chennai told ET: "The order for investigation was received just a week back."
According to ET, church members have been urging the authorities to investigate since 2007. In October last year the prime minister's office forwarded a petition about the alleged discrepancies to the corporate affairs ministry. In January this year, a report by RoC recommended an SFIO investigation.
CSI is a successor to the Church of England in the sub-continent along with the Church of North India and the Church of Pakistan.
According to Right to Information documents, the RoC report found that "the subject company was filing different balance sheets with various statutory authorities with different information for the same financial year".
The report said: "It appears the business of the company is carried out on a fraudulent/unlawful purpose."
Possible criminal conspiracy and diversion of funds for personal gain are being probed by the fraud office, which an SFIO official said will take a minimum of six months to investigate.
The CSI's top trustee, Most Rev G Dyvasirvadam, denied there was any fraud. "This is the result of backwardness, not corruption," he told ET. "There was no fraud. Even if one diocese submits accounts with a delay, the entire church gets a bad name."