Italian prosecutors contest claims by the Vatican bank that it is trying to comply with international rules to fight money laundering, saying an investigation that led to the seizure of euro23 million ($30 million) from a Vatican bank account shows “exactly the opposite,” according to a court document obtained Friday by The Associated Press.
An Italian court on Wednesday rejected a Vatican request to lift the seizure, leading the Vatican to express “astonishment” at the court’s ruling and indicating the case will not be cleared up quickly, as the Vatican originally predicted.
Since the money was ordered seized last month, the Vatican and the bank’s chairman, Ettore Gotti Tedeschi, have repeatedly said the allegations resulted from a “misunderstanding” and that the Vatican bank — officially known as the Institute for Works of Religion — has been working to comply with international rules to fight money-laundering.
The strongly worded document from the prosecutors’ office said that while there is a “generic and stated will” to conform by the bank “there is no sign that the institutions of the Catholic church are moving in that direction.”
It said the prosecutor’s investigation had found “exactly the opposite.”
The document was submitted to the court as part of the prosecutors’ case against the bank.
The Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, issued a new statement Friday evening, saying Vatican bank officials “confirm their intent to follow the line of transparency” in all financial transactions and are confident in being able to provide as soon as possible all clarifications requested.
Under the investigation, financial police seized the money Sept. 21 from a Vatican bank account at the Rome branch of Credito Artigiano Spa, after the bank informed the Bank of Italy about possible violations of anti-money laundering norms. The bulk of the money, euro20 million ($26 million), was destined for JP Morgan in Frankfurt, with the remainder going to Banca del Fucino.
The prosecutors’ document suggests confirmation of Italian press reports that the probe was widening, looking into possible violations in earlier years linked to Italian corruption, in addition to the two most recent cases.
The document cites suspicious transactions involving checks drawn from a Vatican bank account at Unicredit bank in 2009, involving the use of a false name.
The prosecutors also cited a euro650,000 withdrawal from a Vatican bank account at Intesa San Paolo bank where the Vatican didn’t specify the money’s ultimate destination despite a specific request by the Italian bank.
The prosecutors called this “a deliberate failure to observe the anti-laundering laws with the aim of hiding the ownership, destination and origin of the capital.” The Italian banks have declined comment.
The Vatican bank is required to provide such information because it is considered by Italy to be a foreign bank.
Gotti and his No. 2, Paolo Cipriani, have been placed under investigation by Italian authorities. They were questioned by Rome prosecutors on Sept. 30. They have not been charged with any crime.
Italian legal experts have said the case could end up being decided by Italy’s highest court.
It is not the first time the bank has clashed with Italian authorities. The Vatican bank was famously implicated in a scandal over the collapse of the Banco Ambrosiano in the 1980s in one of Italy’s largest fraud cases.
Roberto Calvi, the head of Banco Ambrosiano, was found hanging from Blackfriars Bridge in London in 1982 in circumstances that still remain mysterious.
London investigators first ruled that Calvi committed suicide, but his family pressed for further investigation. Eventually murder charges were filed against five defendants, including a major Mafia figure, and they were tried in Rome and acquitted in 2007.
Banco Ambrosiano collapsed following the disappearance of $1.3 billion in loans the bank had made to several dummy companies in Latin America. The Vatican had provided letters of credit for the loans.
While denying any wrongdoing, the Vatican bank agreed to pay $250 million to Ambrosiano’s creditors.
The late Archbishop Paul Marcinkus, an American prelate who headed the Vatican bank at the time, was charged as an accessory to fraudulent bankruptcy in the scandal, but Italy’s Constitutional Court eventually backed the Vatican in ruling that under Vatican-Italian treaties Marcinkus had immunity from Italian prosecution. Marcinkus long asserted his innocence and died in 2006.
Reporter Martino Villosio in Rome contributed to this report.