Vatican defends its bankers in money laundering probe

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Vatican City, Sep 23 (IANS/AKI) The Vatican has moved to defend the president and chief executive of its bank, who are involved in a formal money laundering investigation.

In a letter to the London-based Financial Times newspaper Thursday, Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi said there had been a “misunderstanding” over two disputed money transfers and that the Vatican had been cooperating fully with Italian and international authorities.

“The current problem was caused by a misunderstanding (now being examined) between the IOR (Vatican bank) and the bank that received the tranfer order,” Lombardi wrote in the letter.

The inquiry was launched after two suspicious transactions were reported following a tightening of controls by the Bank of Italy.

Police said Tuesday they had seized some 23 million euros deposited by the IOR at Italy’s Credito Artigiano bank as a precautionary measure and were investigating the Vatican bank’s president Ettore Gotti Tedeschi and CEO Paolo Cipriani.

The suspect transactions involved 20 million euros sent to the German bank J.P.Morgan Frankfurt, and three million euros sent to the Banca del Fucino, an Italian bank.

Lombardi said since Gotti Tedeschi’s appointment a year ago he had been working “with great commitment to ensure the transparency of the IOR’s activities” and to put the Vatican on the “white list” of sovereign states deemed compliant with internationalnorms against money laundering.

“The Holy See reiterates its complete confidence in the managers of the IOR and its desire for complete transparency in the operations it undertakes,” Lombardi concluded.

The Italian bishops’ conference newspaper Avvenire called the probe “offensive and inexplicable”.

The probe risks straining relations between the Vatican and Italian authorities, especially over the issue of sovereignty and jurisdiction.

It is not the first time that the Vatican bank has been mired in scandal, however.

In November last year, investigators were reported to be probing the Vatican bank for suspected money laundering of 60 million euros via one or more accounts it opened with Italy’s largest bank, UniCredit.

IOR owned a small part of the Banco Ambrosiano and was held partially responsible for the a fraud scandal that led to the bank’s $3.5 billion collapse in 1982. At the time Banco Ambrosiano was then Italy’s largest lender.

The bank was also entangled in the 1990s Enimont corruption trials involving government officials.


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