BAMAKO, Mali (ChurchMilitant.com) - Only days after Pope Francis' announcement that Mali would be getting its first cardinal, Abp. Jean Zerbo, honored with the appointment, is being accused of embezzling millions and stashing them in Swiss bank accounts.
French newspaper Le Monde published the latest results of the "SwissLeaks" investigation Wednesday showing that Zerbo, head of the Bamako archdiocese, along with two other Malian clergy reportedly stole a total of 12 million euros and transferred them to seven foreign bank accounts owned by the bishops' conference of Mali. At the time of the transactions, dating back as far as 2002, Zerbo was serving as finance manager of the bishops' conference.
"It's an old account," Zerbo told Le Monde. "It concerns a system we inherited from the Order of the Missionaries of Africa who manage the Church."
The Malian bishops have responded to the charges, calling the report "a tendentious article" and questioning the motives behind making the accusations public.
"This act, done when our Church is being honored by the appointment of its first cardinal, aims at ruining its image and destabilizing it," the press release states. "God, Who sees and knows everything, will know one day how to restore the truth."
"The Bishops Conference of Mali operates in total transparency, in the service of Church and Peace," the statement declares.
Pope Francis announced May 21 the naming of five new cardinals in the Church, four of them from countries that have never had the honor of receiving the red hat. Zerbo has served as archbishop of Bamako since 1998, and is best known for trying to broker peace between Mali's Christians and the country's Muslim majority.
The current finance manager of the Mali bishops conference is disclaiming any knowledge of the money. "I've honestly never dealt with offshore accounts and I do not know whether Switzerland is considered a tax haven," says Abbot Noël Somboro. "In any case, we have bank accounts in various parts of the world. I do not rule out that these accounts exist, but I personally don't have any track of them."
SwissLeaks has been a continuing project of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, "based on a trove of almost 60,000 leaked files that provide details on over 100,000 HSBC clients and their bank accounts." The Consortium has spent years investigating money laundering linked to dictators, arms dealers, politicians and celebrities via banking giant HSBC.
Secret documents reveal that global banking giant HSBC profited from doing business with arms dealers who channeled mortar bombs to child soldiers in Africa, bag men for Third World dictators, traffickers in blood diamonds and other international outlaws.
The leaked files, based on the inner workings of HSBC’s Swiss private banking arm, relate to accounts holding more than $100 billion. They provide a rare glimpse inside the super-secret Swiss banking system — one the public has never seen before.
Its revelations about soon-to-be Cardinal Jean Zerbo are the latest in its exposés revealing financial misdeeds of world leaders, sports and Hollywood celebrities, business executives and royalty.