Vatican Prelate Arrested With Spy in Corruption Probe

A senior Vatican cleric, an Italian secret service agent and a financial broker were arrested today in a corruption investigation that’s part of a wider probe into Vatican Bank transactions.

The three were charged with fraud and corruption, Rome prosecutor Nello Rossi said today at a press conference in Rome. Monsignor Nunzio Scarano, the former head of a Vatican financial department called APSA, was among the three people taken into custody, he said.

The three men allegedly tried to bring 20 million euros ($26 million) into Italy from Switzerland in a private jet, Rossi said. The plane was hired in Italy and landed in Locarno, Switzerland, where it remained for several days, he said. The money never left Switzerland because the broker reneged on the deal, the prosecutor said.

Attempts to reach a lawyer for Scarano by phone weren't successful. Scarano was suspended more than a month ago from his duties at APSA, a department that oversees the Holy See’s real estate holdings, “as soon as his superiors were informed that he was under investigation,” Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi said in a statement published on the Vatican Radio website. “The Holy See has not yet received any request from the competent Italian authorities on the matter, but confirmed its willingness to cooperate fully.”

Strict Surveillance

The arrests come two days after Pope Francis named a commission to oversee the operations of the Vatican Bank. Moneyval, the Council of Europe’s monitoring body for money laundering and terrorism financing, is calling for independent supervision of the bank, whose formal name is the Institute for the Works of Religion, or IOR.

The Vatican is trying to overcome three decades of scandals at the bank, ranging from the Banco Ambrosiano failure in the 1980s to the freezing of 23 million euros by Italian prosecutors in 2010. Pope Benedict XVI appointed Ernst von Freyberg, a German lawyer and financial adviser, to head the IOR in February as one of his last acts before retiring.

The Vatican bank oversees about 7.1 billion euros in assets, mostly in bonds and cash. In an interview this month, von Freyberg said he was committed to making the bank more transparent and compliant with international standards.

The “IOR is committed to full cooperation with authorities,” the bank said in an e-mailed statement today. The bank’s oversight council “has initiated an internal investigation in this matter in line with the ’zero tolerance’ policy” set by von Freyberg, according to the statement.

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