$500K for Hamilton refugees missing, Catholic priest under investigation
‘The people that gave him the money trusted him. We trusted him,’ monsignor says
Hundreds of thousands of dollars raised by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Hamilton for resettling dozens of refugees in the city has gone missing, and the diocese fears it may have been gambled away by one of its priests.
Father Amer Saka, a priest at St. Joseph’s Chaldean Catholic Church in London, has been suspended by the diocese and is being investigated by London police in connection with the missing money.
The allegation is that the priest gambled away $500,000 or more reserved for a private sponsorship refugee program that has already brought 11 refugees to the city. It was supposed to help settle as many as 40 more. The diocese says it will continue with the program and find a way to fund it.
“The people that gave him the money trusted him. We trusted him,” said Monsignor Murray Kroetsch, official spokesman for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Hamilton.
Kroetsch told CBC Hamilton that Saka had been involved with its refugee sponsorship program for about eight years, privately sponsoring Iraqi refugees.
Suspicion was raised in September by a new employee at the Hamilton diocese who was reviewing the files.
According to Kroetsch, the paperwork seemed in order, and with many successful cases in the past, there was no need to question if the money was in the bank or not.
“I was not aware of any problems,” said Kroetsch. “Our major concern is getting these people looked after.”
The refugees privately sponsored by Saka were part of a program under an agreement with Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada.
Allocation of resources
“The refugees are in camps waiting for travel documents,” he said. “They have been approved to come, and we are committed to looking after them.”
But without the funding in place, Kroetsch says there will likely be challenges. As part of the resettlement program, the diocese is required to raise about $12,000 for each individual for their first 12 months, more for families. Housing, food, medical assistance and translators will be the immediate need.
“We may have to allocate our resources differently to look after them,” he said. “We may be leaning on the families of the refugees to help, provided they have family here.”
London police launched an investigation on Feb. 24 after receiving a complaint from the Hamilton diocese about allegations of financial misappropriations.
Chaldean Bishop Emmanuel Shaleta, at the Good Shepherd Chaldean Cathedral in Toronto, told CBC News: “The parishioners, they did not not know anything. When I told them this was the situation, they were all disappointed and surprised and sad.”
Police are not releasing details about the investigation and no charges have been laid. The allegations have not been proven in court.
“The investigation is being handled by our fraud unit,” said Const. Melissa Duncan, London Police Relief Media Officer.
“These (cases) can take some time to unfold … we are gathering bank records and statements including obtaining search warrants,” she said.
Bishop Douglas Crosby from the diocese of Hamilton, released a statement March 2.
“I am deeply saddened by the recent news concerning the allegations against Father Amer Saka.”
The release also stated the diocese is committed to continuing its care and support of all the refugees involved in the sponsorship program, including refugees privately sponsored by Saka.
“Until these matters are fully investigated Father Saka will have no further participation in the Diocese of Hamilton’s refugee sponsorship program.”
Kroetsch is hopeful the Catholic community will come together in support of the refugees.
“There is a great deal of goodwill among the Catholic people to help … we have made a commitment to look after them, and we will.”