Ontario priest accused of gambling away $500K for refugees
Published Monday, March 28, 2016 12:35PM EDT
Last Updated Monday, March 28, 2016 9:53PM EDT
A priest in London, Ont., is under police investigation after church officials learned that he may have gambled away more than $500,000 in funds that had been slated for the sponsorship of Iraqi refugees.
Father Amer Saka, a priest at St. Joseph Chaldean Catholic Church in London, has been suspended after telling Bishop Emanuel Shaleta that he lost all the money to gambling.
It is unclear what form of gambling the priest may have engaged in.
London Police confirmed to CTV News that they launched a fraud investigation in late February, after receiving a complaint from the Diocese of Hamilton, which is managing the refugees' sponsorship.
No charges have been laid and the allegations have not been proven in court.
According to a report in the Toronto Star, Saka has since been sent for treatment for gambling addiction at the Southdown Institute. The clinic is a non-profit facility for clergy members battling addiction and mental health issues.
Bishop Shaleta told CTV News that Saka's actions did not involve the St. Joseph Chaldean Catholic Church or its funds.
"It was deposited with Father Saka for refugees who arrive here," said Bishop Shaleta.
"They trusted him. They did not give it as a gift. They were trusting the priest. They didn't ask for receipts."
Toronto Star reporter Chris Reynolds also spoke to Bishop Shelata, who told him he was troubled by the allegations.
“He said he was deeply disturbed (about) the implications for refugees coming over and trying to come over to Toronto and the southern Ontario area,” Reynolds told CTV News Channel Monday.
The Chaldean Catholic Church is based in Baghdad and represents Catholics from Iraq and neighbouring countries. It is an arm of the Catholic Church and is under the watch of the Vatican.
St. Joseph Chaldean Church is not part of the Roman Catholic Diocese of London, but is instead part of Chaldean Catholic Eparchy of Mar Addai of Toronto.
Hamilton’s Catholic diocese is a registered sponsorship agreement holder, sponsoring several Syrian and Iraqi refugees. Saka led a constituent group authorized by the Hamilton Diocese to sponsor 20 Iraqi refugees. As group leader, he was in charge of the funds meant to cover sponsorship costs.
The Hamilton diocese says it will now take over responsibility for the refugees' support.