23 October 2016
Investigators suspect murky goings-on occurred at the Vatican's general accounting office in the decade to 2011. Photo: AFP
Investigators suspect murky goings-on occurred at the Vatican's general accounting office in the decade to 2011. Photo: AFP

Vatican probe suspects key office used for money laundering

Vatican financial investigators suspect a department of the Holy See that oversees real estate and investments was used in the past for possible money laundering, insider trading and market manipulation, Reuters reported.

The news agency cited information in a confidential report that covers the period from 2000 to 2011.

The document has been passed to Italian and Swiss investigators to be checked by them, because some activity tied to the accounts allegedly took place in these countries, an unnamed senior Vatican source was quoted as saying.

A Vatican department called the Administration of the Patrimony of the Holy See (APSA), a sort of general accounting office, manages the city-state’s property holdings in Rome and elsewhere in Italy, pays the salaries of Vatican employees and acts as a purchasing office and human resources department.

One of its two divisions also manages the Vatican’s financial and stock portfolio.

The 33-page report outlines suspicions that this division was used by an outsider for non-Vatican business, with the possible complicity of APSA staff, in violation of its own regulations.

The internal investigation is part of a drive by Pope Francis to give Vatican financial authorities free rein to dig deep, overruling some cardinals who would prefer to forget the past now that the Vatican has enacted major reforms and instituted controls to thwart irregular practices.

Under Francis, the Vatican has overhauled its scandal-plagued bank, given more power to its Financial Intelligence Authority, appointed its first auditor general and set up a new ministry to oversee economic activities of all departments, which previously ran their budgets with little or no control.

The financial investigators gave their findings to the Vatican’s Promoter of Justice, or chief prosecutor, Gian Piero Milano, a senior Vatican source said.

In one apparent anomaly, a 2012 evaluation of the Vatican by Moneyval — an arm of the Council of Europe that assesses compliance with international anti-money laundering standards — says APSA officials had told it that in 2001 the department decided to phase out individual account holders and that no new funds had been allowed to enter such accounts since then.

But the report on the internal investigation seen by Reuters says money was deposited into such APSA accounts from outside sources or moved between them in APSA as late as 2009.

APSA made headlines in June 2013 with the arrest of Monsignor Nunzio Scarano, who worked there for 22 years as a senior accountant.

He is on trial in two cases.

The first involves charges of conspiracy to smuggle 20 million euros (US$21.9 million) in cash into Italy from Switzerland to help friends avoid taxes, and the other involves charges he used the Vatican bank for money laundering.

Scarano denies all wrongdoing.

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