Priest charged with stealing $500K meant to bring refugees to Canada

Amer Saka of London, a Chaldean priest, is charged with theft over $5,000. The diocese has previously said it worries the money was gambled.

Police began investigating in February, and laid the charges on Wednesday

Father Amer Saka is under investigation after $500,000 raised by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Hamilton meant for Hamilton refugees went missing. (St. Joseph Chaldean Catholic Church/Facebook)

London police have charged a priest with defrauding more than $500,000 intended to sponsor Syrian refugees coming to Hamilton.

Amer Saka of London, a 51-year-old Chaldean priest, is charged with fraud exceeding $5,000 and possessing proceeds of crime. The investigation started in February.

Police allege Saka got money from more than 20 victims who thought they were sponsoring refugee families. 

Saka is a priest at St. Joseph's Chaldean Catholic Church. The Roman Catholic Diocese of Hamilton said in March that it worried the money was gambled from a reserve for a private sponsorship program that has already brought 11 refugees to the city. It was supposed to help settle as many as 40 more.

Saka had been involved in the refugee sponsorship program for about eight years, privately sponsoring Iraqi refugees. The diocese has already suspended him.

Police laid the charges on Wednesday. It spanned throughout Ontario and the U.S., and other countries where refugees were attempting to come to Canada, police said in a statement on Thursday.

Otherwise, Const. Sandasha Bough wouldn't elaborate on the location of the victims. "We're not saying specifically what areas the victims are from."

In a statement to CBC Hamilton, Bishop Douglas Crosby said the diocese is committed to supporting the refugees in the sponsorship program, "including those whose sponsorship may have involved Father Saka.

"I assure all who have contributed to the sponsorship program that the Diocese of Hamilton intends to continue its long established and important work in sponsoring refugees," Crosby said. 

The diocese won't comment more because the matter is before the courts, he said.

Anyone who has had dealings with Saka should contact London Police Service at 519-661-5670 or Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-TIPS.

samantha.craggs@cbc.ca | @SamCraggsCBC