Nine people brought to Jordan under guise of religious pilgrimage.
Thiruvananthapuram: Police in Kerala said they have intensified the search for a Catholic priest, who is accused of trafficking nine people to Jordan under the cover of conducting a pilgrimage to the Holy Land.
Father Stanislaus Theesmas of the Latin-rite Trivandrum archdiocese and tour operator Kiran Mohanan have gone missing after the police registered a case against them for human trafficking on Aug. 4, Jawahar Janardh, assistant police commissioner, told ucanews.com.
“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 official said.
Immigration officials filed the complaint after the pilgrims and Fr Theesmas failed to return to Kerala at the end of their visa in June.
A preliminary investigation revealed that the pilgrims were working in Jordan and that Fr Theesmas had returned to New Delhi on June 29, Janardh said.
Fr Theesmas, 49, was serving as an assistant pastor at Mount Carmel Church in the suburbs of the state capital Thiruvananthapuram. He previously served at St. John the Baptist Church in Thumba, where all nine travelers were parishioners.
The Trivandrum archdiocese office confirmed that the church is aware of the human trafficking investigation of Fr Theesmas.
“We know about it. But I can’t comment on it,” Father Pius, secretary to Archbishop Maria Callist Soosa Pakiam, told ucanews.com.
Meanwhile, police were questioning the relatives of the travelers who had gone to Jordan. Police said the priest and agent charged the travelers US$3,100 with the promise of finding work in Jordan.
Police also said that they believe Fr Theesmas is hiding in Kollam, southwestern Kerala.
In 2013, Fr Jaison Kollannur, an official with the Kerala Catholic Bishops’ Council, was arrested for trafficking 40 youths to the United States under the cover of an international education conference, charging each about US$6,000.
A senior police official in Kerala, who didn’t want to be identified, told ucanews.com that many people who are organizing holy 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,” the police official said.