Police in London, Ont. are investigating a Catholic priest after he allegedly gambled away over $500,000 meant for refugees.
Father Amer Saka of the St. Joseph Chaldean Catholic Church confessed to bishop Emanuel Shaleta last month that the money had disappeared in games of chance, The Toronto Star reported.
He was suspended right away, Shaleta told the newspaper. Saka subsequently received treatment.
Precisely how the money was gambled away isn't clear. But Shaleta believes Saka has a "serious gambling problem and that these funds may have been used for this purpose."
"Since there is an investigation going on, we cannot confirm what he's saying," he said.
Shaleta added that Saka was taken to Southdown Institute, a facility that offers addiction and mental health services for clergy members.
The London police began a fraud investigation after they received a complaint from the Diocese of Hamilton in February, CTV News reported.
The diocese had been overseeing efforts by numerous groups, including one led by Saka, to sponsor Syrian and Iraqi refugees in Canada.
Saka was trusted with handling funds after families donated money to support loved ones fleeing war in the Middle East.
But, instead of holding the money for refugees, it was gambled off, Shaleta told the London Free Press.
"They deposited it for their loved ones (and) he was supposed to return it when their relative came," he said.
"They trusted him, this money was not for him. It was to be given back to the refugees."
Sponsoring a family of four refugees for a year costs a minimum of approximately $20,000, on top of $7,000 in startup costs, according to Lifeline Syria.
The Diocese of Hamilton is now overseeing sponsorship for the refugees that Saka had been helping, CTV News noted.
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