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Priest accused of gambling away funds for Syrian refugees

Ontario police say Amer Saka of Chaldean Catholic Church collected the money to support those fleeing the war-torn nation

Cards welcoming Syrian refugees created by students at Paul Penna Downtown Jewish Day School in Toronto, December 2015. (Courtesy)
Cards welcoming Syrian refugees created by students at Paul Penna Downtown Jewish Day School in Toronto, December 2015. (Courtesy)

MONTREAL, Canada — A Canadian priest was charged this week for stealing more than half a million dollars (US$400,000) intended for the resettlement of Syrian refugees, and then gambling it away.

Amer Saka, 51, a clergyman of the Chaldean Catholic Church — based in Baghdad — had allegedly collected the funds from more than 20 donors to support refugees arriving from the war-torn nation, according to local police.

“This investigation spanned throughout the province of Ontario, the United States and other countries where refugees were attempting to come to Canada,” police in London, Ontario said in a statement on Thursday.

Bishop Emanuel Shaleta, head of the Chaldean Catholic Church in Canada, told The London Free Press that Saka had called him to say he had gambled and lost all of the money.

Syrian refugees arrive aboard a dinghy after crossing from Turkey to the island of Lesbos, Greece, on September 10, 2015. (AP/Petros Giannakouris, File)
Syrian refugees arrive aboard a dinghy after crossing from Turkey to the island of Lesbos, Greece, on September 10, 2015. (AP/Petros Giannakouris, File)

The priest had been involved in a sponsorship program for refugees for several years. He was suspended by the diocese of Hamilton, Ontario after police opened an investigation in February.

Saka was arrested on Wednesday and granted bail after being charged with fraud and a related possession charge. The newspaper said a court ordered Saka not to enter any casino.

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