Embattled Mali Bishop Vows to Be at Ceremony Making Him Cardinal

Abp. Jean Zerbo is being accused of laundering 12 million euros through a Swiss bank account

by Christine Niles, M.St. (Oxon.), J.D. • ChurchMilitant • June 27, 2017

VATICAN CITY – A Mali prelate is confirming he’ll be attending the Wednesday ceremony in Rome elevating him to the rank of cardinal, even while explosive allegations are swirling that he embezzled millions of euros and stashed them in a foreign bank account.

The Vatican confirmed Tuesday that Abp. Jean Zerbo of Bamako plans on making it to St. Peter’s Basilica, where he and four other bishops will be receiving the red hat.

Only days after Pope Francis’ announcement in May that Mali would be getting its first cardinal, Zerbo was accused of stealing 12 million euros and hiding them in Swiss bank accounts.

French newspaper Le Monde published results of the “SwissLeaks” investigation in early June showing that Zerbo, 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 at the time. “It concerns a system we inherited from the Order of the Missionaries of Africa who manage the Church.”

The Vatican has not offered public comment on the allegations, but some media have speculated Pope Francis may withdraw the honor of cardinalate from Zerbo in the face of such serious accusations.

The Associated Press reports that Zerbo arrived in Rome Saturday, but was not speaking to the press.

Jean-Gabriel Diarra, one of the prelates accused in the SwissLeaks investigation, commented from Rome, “We have nothing to hide. People say that we have hidden the money of the faithful in Switzerland. We can give an explanation for this, but for the moment we cannot talk about it to the press before explaining it to those who are entitled.”

Some media have speculated Pope Francis may withdraw the honor of cardinalate from Zerbo in the face of such serious accusations.Tweet
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.

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