Poi­soned trio wait for rest of cash

Weekend Herald - - News - Natalie Akoorie

A church hold­ing funds raised for a fam­ily struck down by se­vere poi­son­ing has only re­leased part of the $100,000 do­nated.

The St Thomas Marthoma Church of New Zealand re­leased $42,520 of $102,764 raised ear­lier this year for the Kochum­men fam­ily af­ter three mem­bers were hos­pi­talised with sus­pected bot­u­lism poi­son­ing.

Shibu Kochum­men, 36, his 65-year-old mother Alekutty Daniel and his wife Subi Babu, 34, of Pu­taruru were struck down with vom­it­ing, con­vul­sions and paral­y­sis in Novem­ber last year af­ter eat­ing wild boar.

They spent weeks in in­ten­sive care in co­mas be­fore re­cov­er­ing. Bot­u­lism was even­tu­ally ruled out af­ter tests were neg­a­tive and the cause is still un­known.

Their care was tax­payer-funded be­cause Kochum­men, a me­chanic and Babu, a nurse, are New Zealand cit­i­zens but Daniel is not.

Be­fore ACC ap­proved cover for Daniel a Givealit­tle fund was set up by the Hamil­ton Marthoma Church and al­most $30,000 was raised.

An­other $70,000 was do­nated to the church fol­low­ing a sep­a­rate fundrais­ing ini­tia­tive by the parishes, and in Jan­uary the $42,000 was re­leased to en­able the fam­ily to travel back to In­dia where their two young chil­dren, aged 7 and 1, were be­ing cared for by rel­a­tives.

Fam­ily spokesman and Hamil­ton Marthoma Church parish sec­re­tary Joji Vargh­ese said he made re­peated re­quests of the New Zealand church vicar for the re­main­ing $60,224 to be re­leased to the fam­ily. In­stead he says he was re­ferred to one of the church bish­ops in In­dia, Dr PT Joseph, who did not re­spond to his in­quiries.

“From Fe­bru­ary on­wards is when this whole thing started to reek of some­thing is hap­pen­ing that shouldn’t be hap­pen­ing.” Vargh­ese said the Hamil­ton parish put their con­cerns in writ­ing and threat­ened to go to po­lice if the mat­ter was not re­solved.

He said al­though ACC cov­ered Daniel’s care, the cou­ple could not work un­til re­cently and Babu had not re­turned to work full-time be­cause of the ef­fects of the ill­ness.

Church trustee Che­rian [Abu] Thomas told the Week­end Her­ald: “Re­cently, we got ver­bal ap­proval from our bishop and we are ex­pect­ing his writ­ten ap­proval.”

Thomas said Marthoma Church, a Chris­tian faith based in south­west In­dia, re­ceived the do­na­tions to sup­port Daniel who was on a vis­i­tor’s visa when she be­came ill.

“She did not have any travel in­surance and hence she needed a huge sum for her treat­ment.”

But in an email from Bishop Joseph, dated Jan­uary 27 and seen by the Week­end Her­ald, the bishop gave in­struc­tion to re­lease only enough to cover the air­fares to In­dia.

“The re­main­ing amount can be put in con­gre­ga­tion ac­count as sep­a­rate fund,” he wrote. “The re­main­ing amount can be car­ried over to new year ac­count . . . No money be re­leased with out [sic] my per­mis­sion at any time. Tell them this is my di­rec­tives given to you.”

The bishop and the New Zealand vicar, Reverend VT Kurian, did not re­spond to Week­end Her­ald emails. When con­tacted by phone Kurian said he couldn’t talk be­cause he was trav­el­ling to Hamil­ton for a monthly ser­vice, and to put ques­tions in an email.

Church ac­coun­tant Philip Ku­ruvilla said the church’s pro­cesses were ro­bust and trans­par­ent and he was un­sure why there had been a de­lay in re­leas­ing the funds.

Shibu Kochum­men said he did not want to com­ment. A Char­i­ties Com­mis­sion spokesman said it would only be con­sid­ered mis­use or mis­rep­re­sen­ta­tion of the money if it was used for other pur­poses, which did not ap­pear to be the case.

Shibu Kochum­men, 35, his mother Alekutty Daniel, 62, and his wife Subi Babu, 33, were struck down with se­vere poi­son­ing last Novem­ber. The cou­ple’s daugh­ters were not af­fected.

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