Seizing roughly $30 million from the Vatican Bank Tuesday, Italian authorities said they will be investigating top officials in connection with money laundering.
Attempting to make its finances more transparent to comply with anti-terrorism and anti-money-laundering regulation, the Vatican has put its trust in bank chairman Ettore Gotti Tedeschi who told RAI television that he was “humiliated and mortified” by the news of the authorities’ probe.
A Vatican statement said, “The Holy see is perplexed and surprised by the initiatives of the Rome prosecutors, considering the data necessary is already available at the Bank of Italy.”
Over a year ago, news reports were circulating about Italian investigators scrutinizing millions of dollars (euros) of the Vatican’s bank transactions to determine if they were violating money-laundering regulations.
According to reports, Tuesday the police had seized money from the Vatican bank account at the Rome branch of Credito Artigiano Spa due to the bank neglecting to tell financial authorities where $26 million heading to JP Morgan in Frankfurt and Banco del Funcino had come from.
Vatican representatives are not strangers to controversy. In the 1980s, the Vatican bank was implicated in a scandal over the collapse of Roberto Calvi’s Banco Ambrosiano in one of Italy’s largest fraud cases. Following the disappearance of $1.3 billion in loans Banco Ambrosiano had made to several dummy companies in Latin America, it was discovered the Vatican bank provided letters of credit for the loans. At the time, the Vatican bank agreed to pay $250 million to Ambrosiano’s creditors, though denying any wrongdoing. Authorities later found Calvi (dubbed “God’s Banker”) hanging from Blackfriars Bridge in London under circumstances that are still a mystery. After Calvi’s family refused to believe he had committed suicide and pressed police to investigate further, five defendants were charged with murder, tried, and ultimately acquitted in 2007.
Last year, a U.S. appeals court dismissed a lawsuit against the Vatican bank filed by Holocaust survivors. The survivors from Croatia, Ukraine and Yugoslavia alleged the Vatican had accepted millions of dollars of their valuables stolen by Nazi sympathizers. The court said the bank was immune from such a lawsuit under the 1976 Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, which protects foreign countries from being sued in United States courts.
The Vatican’s statement Tuesday said it was working to join the “white list” of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, which attempts to keep tabs on financial openness on the exchange of tax information.
The Vatican bank, located in a tower just inside the gates of Vatican City, is not a typical bank, as its mission is to manage assets destined for religious works or works of charity, as well as manage ATMs inside the city and the pension system for the Vatican’s thousands of employees. The bank is not open to the public, and deposits are generally limited to religious orders, people who transfer money for the pope’s charities, and Vatican employees.