An Irish priest has been given a key role in an investigation into an astonishing corruption scandal that has convulsed Argentina for the past month.

Father Tom O’Donnell, 64, a native of Templeglantine, Co. Limerick, has been tasked to find out if a group of elderly religious women aided and abetted a former government minister who threw almost $9 million in cash and jewelry in bags over their convent wall.

The group of four women, one aged 94, are called nuns and they live in Our Lady of the Rosary of Fatima Convent about 35 miles from Buenos Aires.

Despite them being referred to generally as nuns, Archbishop Jose Maria Arancedo, president of the local bishop’s conference, said in a recent interview that they are not nuns.

The small religious order was founded, however, by Archbishop Ruben Di Monte, who lived at the convent during his retirement until he died in April.

Di Monte was friends with Jose Lopez, who was former minister of public works in a government headed by President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, whose eight-year presidency ended last December.

Former minister Lopez is the man accused of throwing the bags of jewelry and cash, including U.S. dollars, into the convent. When he was arrested there, following an alert by a neighbor about the suspicious activity, a .22 caliber rifle was found by police in the back of his car.

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He has already appeared in court wearing a bullet-proof vest and helmet and he is due to re-appear next Monday along with two of the women who wear religious habits.

O’Donnell, a Pallotine missionary who has been in Argentina since 1978 and is parish priest in Mercedes, outside Buenos Aires, has been ordered by the Catholic Church to lead an investigation.

He told The Irish Times that his investigation team had a narrow focus on how the nuns at the convent came to be embroiled in the affair.

He told RTE in another interview that his investigation would attempt to establish whether the “nuns” were aware of what was happening or if they were “being used” by Lopez.

The priest said Lopez’s wife phoned the convent to say he would be coming later with bags.

O’Donnell added, “Now, according to the nuns, they weren’t sure if they were food items or what they were but he didn’t turn up until late in the morning…..

“It’s a canonical investigation. Now, did they commit a crime, these old nuns? These nuns, of course, have their statutes and their constitutions. It’s only a new congregation, but they still have fundamental law, statutes and their constitutions. Our investigation is to find out if they comply with these promises of obedience, poverty.”

Tom O’Donnell given key role in investigating astonishing corruption scandal caused by elderly religious women.Getty Images/iStockphoto