A popular evangelical pastor in Montreal accused of owing hundreds of thousands of dollars to his parishioners has denied any wrongdoing.
"I did not take anyone’s money," said Mwinda Lezoka, speaking in French, in an exclusive interview with CBC News. "So I, Mr. Lezoka, am not responsible for deceiving anyone."
Lezoka's first comments came as a CBC News investigation learned that Lezoka had his eyes set on the lucrative diamond trade.
He took steps to establish himself in the international diamond business, while allegedly amassing as much as $1.5 million in debt at the expense of his parishioners and clients. They have now launched dozens of lawsuits against him, alleging he defaulted on loans.
Parishioners claim they donated money to support their church's activities, including money to finance a new church building, but that they haven't seen any returns.
But Lekoza, 47, insisted money given to the church, stayed inside the church.
The pastor was unable to produce any financial records, when asked by CBC News. Nor could he explain why charitable tax receipts he issued have false numbers, according to Revenue Canada.
The church building is still under renovations, and construction workers are refusing to finish until a $25,000 bill is paid.
Lezoka said he is trying to make ends meet, which is why he got into the diamond trade. He said he used the parishioners' money to buy a $30,000 vendor's permit.
He said the only profit he made was three years ago, when he sold $26,000 worth of diamonds. But when asked, he said he had to check to see if that transaction was declared.
Lezoka said Sunday’s service will be held as usual and that his congregation needs to trust that he and his council will get these money matters in order. .