CBI arrests two priests, a nun in Sister Abhaya murder case

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Kochi, Nov 19 (UNI) Breaking the deadlock in the 16-year-old Sister Abhaya murder case, the CBI has arrested two Catholic priests, Fr Thomas Kottoor and Fr Jose Poothrukkayil, and Sister Sephi on the basis of 'fresh' evidence against them.

Addressing newspersons here today, CBI Joint Director Ashok Kumar said Fr Kottoor (61) and Fr Poothrikkayil (56) were arrested yesterday and Sister Sephi (45) was taken into custody from Kottayam today.

He said the trio were produced before the Chief Judicial Magistrate (CJM) who remanded them to CBI custody till December two.

Without divulging details on the evidence gathered, Mr Kumar said ''we have fresh evidence on the case and the CBI is pursuing further investigation expediously as possible as per the directions of the Kerala High Court.

''We are not revealing the evidence as there was a chance that it would be tampered with and the accused will get an advantage,'' he said.

Mr Kumar said a special team had been constituted to probe the case and more information would be given on the case in 25 to 30 days.

Mr Kumar replied in the negative when asked whether there was any external pressure on the investigation of the case.

He also cautioned the media not to publish any unverified report on the case as it would affect the investigation.

Earlier, CJM P D Soman while remanding the arrested to CBI custody dismissed their applications, seeking that the interrogation should be done only in the presence of their counsels.

However, the magistrate cautioned the CBI not to subject them to any physical or mental torture during the interrogation.

The central investigating agency had last year conducted narco-analysis tests on the trio and had reportedly found evidence of their involvement in the alleged murder of Sister Abhaya.

The body of Sister Abhaya (21), an inmate of the Pius Xth Convent in Kottayam, was found in the Convent well on March 27, 1992.

While the police had initially described the case as a suicide, later investigations by the CBI and forensic reports had indicated that she was raped and murdered.

According to reports, the arrests had been made following a vital statement given yesterday by Sanju P Mathew whose house was close to the Convent.

The arrests are the first in the investigation of the case conducted at different stages by the Kerala police, state crime branch and several teams of the CBI.

Allegedly hushed up earlier due to political pressure, the CBI probe is now being monitored by the Kerala High Court following a public interest petition filed by the Sister Abhaya Joint Action Council.

Former CBI Dy SP Varghese P Thomas, who was the first to conclude that it was a murder case, had alleged that pressure had come on him from the then Prime Minister's Office to close the case in 1994.

He subsequently resigned from the CBI.

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