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Vatican bank scrutinized in money-laundering case
$30 million in assets seized
Question of the Day
Legal waters are murky because of the Vatican’s special status as an independent state within Italy. This time, Italian investigators were able to move against the Vatican Bank because the Bank of Italy classifies it as a foreign financial institution operating in Italy.
However, in one of the 1980s scandals, prosecutors could not arrest then-bank head Paul Marcinkus, an American archbishop, because Italy’s highest court ruled he had immunity.
Archbishop Marcinkus, who died in 2006 and always proclaimed his innocence, was the inspiration for Francis Ford Coppola’s character Archbishop Gilday in “Godfather III.”
The Vatican has pledged to comply with EU financial standards and create a watchdog authority.
“I don’t trust them,” he said. “After the previous big scandals, they said ‘we’ll change’ and they didn’t. It’s happened too many times.”
He said the structure and culture of the institution is such that powerful account holders can exert pressure on management, and some managers are simply resistant to change.
The bank chairman is Ettore Gotti Tedeschi, also chairman of Banco Santander’s Italian operations, who was brought in last year to bring the Vatican Bank in line with Italian and international regulations.
Mr. Gotti Tedeschi has been on a very public speaking tour extolling the benefits of a morality-based financial system.
“He went to sell the new image … not knowing that inside, the same things were still happening,” Mr. Nuzzi said. “They continued to do these transfers without the names, not necessarily in bad faith, but out of habit.”
It doesn’t help that Mr. Gotti Tedeschi himself and the bank’s No. 2 official, Paolo Cipriani, are under investigation for alleged violations of money-laundering laws. They were both questioned by Rome prosecutors on Sept. 30, although no charges have been filed.
In his testimony, Mr. Gotti Tedeschi said he knew next to nothing about the bank’s day-to-day operations, noting that he had been on the job less than a year and only works at the bank two full days a week.
According to the prosecutors’ interrogation transcripts obtained by AP, Mr. Gotti Tedeschi deflected most questions about the suspect transactions to Mr. Cipriani. In turn, Mr. Cipriani said that when the Holy See transferred money without identifying the sender, it was the Vatican’s own money, not a client’s.
Mr. Gotti Tedeschi declined a request for an interview but said by e-mail that he questioned the motivations of prosecutors.
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