Poisoned trio wait for rest of cash
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.