The Bishops’ Conference of Mali has rejected information published by the French daily newspaper Le Monde claiming that Catholic bishops in Mali - including one recently named by Pope Francis to become a cardinal - have placed €12 million (£10.5 million) in Swiss bank accounts.
According to a Le Monde article of 31 May, Archbishop Jean Zerbo of Bamako – a 73-year-old due to receive his red hat from Pope Francis later this month - was instrumental in setting up several accounts in Swiss banks beginning in 2002. At the time, he was handling financial affairs for the episcopal conference.
The bishops’ conference of Mali has rejected suggestions of any financial wrongdoing, saying: “Everything decided by the conference is done transparently and regularly evaluated”.
Le Monde reports that the accounts were established quietly, in private meetings between Swiss bankers and Church leaders, including Archbishop Zerbo.
The SwissLeaks documents scrutinised by Le Monde claim seven accounts were opened in Monaco in 2002. These are now with the HSBC Private Bank in Geneva and are still active.
The substantial sums involved, especially in light of the limited resources of the Church in Mali and secrecy of the accounts, raise questions about the purposes for the Swiss accounts.
Bamako Cathedral in Mali is rundown. It has been raising funds for a new roof for years. Services are often held in a nearby car park.
When confronted by a reporter Archbishop Zerbo denied being among the Malian churchmen linked to the Swiss accounts, the BBC reports.
He said any overseas money was inherited from French colonial missionaries.
PICTURE: Cardinal-designate Jean Zerbo of Bamako, Mali, is pictured while greeting visitors in Bamako on 25 May. He will be among five new cardinals to be created by Pope Francis at a Vatican consistory on June 28.