di CURZIO MALTESE
LA CHIESA cattolica è l'unica religione a disporre di una dottrina sociale, fondata sulla lotta alla povertà e la demonizzazione del danaro, "sterco del diavolo". Vangelo secondo Matteo: "E' più facile che un cammello passi nella cruna dell'ago, che un ricco entri nel regno dei cieli". Ma è anche l'unica religione ad avere una propria banca per maneggiare affari e investimenti, l'Istituto Opere Religiose.
The Istituto Opere Religiose (IOR) is the Vatican bank. In its coffers 5 billion euros.
Record interest rates for those who hold a current account, impermeability to controls and total secrecy
Scandals, business and mysteries
All the secrets of IOR
By CURZIO MALTESE
The Catholic Church is the only religion endowed with a social doctrine, based on the fight to poverty and the attack to the devilish nature of money, dubbed the “sterco del diavolo” (devil’s faeces). The Gospel according to Matthew: “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God”. But it’s the only Religion to run its own bank to make business and investments, the Istituto Opere Religiose.
The IOR’s head office is a marble case set within the Vatican walls. A four hundred century suggestive tower built during the papacy of Niccolo’ V, with nine-meter-thick walls at its base. The entrance is a discreet door, with no writings, initials or symbols.
Only the 24/7 presence of the Swiss guards give a sign of its importance. Inside there is a big computer room, with only a window and a teller machine. Through this “eye of a needle” pass immense and often obscure fortunes. The most prudent estimate is that the total deposits amount to five billion euros. The Vatican bank offers to its current account holders, among whom, as once stated by its President Angelo Aloia, “some people who had problems with justice”, interest rates superior to the best hedge funds and one valueless advantage: total secrecy.
More impermeable to controls than the Cayman Islands, more discrete than the Swiss banks, this Vatican Institution is a real heaven (fiscal) in earth. A check book with the IOR name doesn’t exist. All deposits and money transfers are made only using cash or gold bars. There is no previous paper trace.
For the last twenty years, since the trial for the scandal of the Banco Abrosiano ended, the IOR is a black hole nobody has the courage to look into. To get over that bank crack, which had ruined tens of thousands families, the Vatican bank only gave $406 million to the loss adjusters: less than one quarter of the due $1,159 million according to then Italian Minister of the Treasury, Beniamino Andreatta. That scandal was accompanied by infinite legends and by a trail of very important people’s cadavers. Michele Sindona was poisoned when in jail at Voghera, Roberto Calvi was hanged under the Black Friars’ bridge in London, Prosecutor Emilio Alessandrini was killed by a group of terrorists denominated “Prima Linea” , lawyer Giorgio Ambrosoli was killed at the entrance of his home by a mafia man who had just arrived from USA.
That without keeping into account the most disturbing mystery, the death of Pope Luciani only thirty-three days after he was elected, on the eve of his decision meant to remove Paul Marcinkus and the IOR’s top echelons. About the end of Giovanni Paolo I some macabre gossips were spread about, helped by the Vatican’s reticence.
No autopsy was made to ascertain the alleged and sudden heart attack and the notebook about the IOR the Pope held in his hands before going to bed in his last night was never found. Paul Marcinkus, born in Cicero (Chicago) at a short distance from Al Capone’s headquarters, was the protagonist of one of the most clamorous and unexplainable careers of the Church’s recent history. Tall and athletic, a good baseball and golf player, he was the man who saved Paolo VI from the assassination attempt in the Philippines. But perhaps that wasn’t enough to explain the support of an intellectual like Montini, the author of the most advanced encyclical in the history, the Populorum Progressio, for this American priest with the perennial behavior of a Wall Street adventurer, with his golf sticks in his custom-built cars, the Avana cigar glued to his lips, the stupendous blond secretaries and his P2’s poker friends. (Note: P2 was a secret association accused of having organized a coup d’etat in Italy).
With the successor of pope Luciani, Marcinkus found an immediate accord. Karol Wojtyla liked that Eastern European immigrants’ son who spoke Polish very well, hated the communists and seemed so sensitive to the Solidarnosc’s battles. When the magistrates in Milan issued an order for the arrest of Marcinkus, the Vatican closed itself into a stronghold to protect him and refused any collaboration with the Italian justice, waving his foreign passports and its extraterritoriality.
It took Woytjla ten years to decide to remove one of the main responsible of the Banco Ambrosiano crack from the IOR’s Presidency. But he never spent a word of condemnation nor a veiled criticism: Marcinkus was and remains for the Catholic hierarchy “a victim”, or better “a naïve victim”.
Since 1989, with the arrival to the IOR’s Presidency of Angelo Aloia, a gentleman of the “white finance”, friend and collaborator of Gianni Bazoli, many things within the IOR are going to change. Some of them don’t change either. The role of the IOR’s reformer entrusted to the lay Caiola is much vaunted by the Vatican hierarchy in the outside world as much it was impeded inside the Vatican, especially in the first years.
As the same Caloia privately said to his friend and catholic journalist Giancarlo Galli, the author of a fundamental but impossible to find book titled “Finanza Bianca (Mondadori, 2003). “ The real IOR’s dominus – wrote Galli – remained monsignor Donato De Bonis, who had a relationship with all the powerful people in Rome, be they politicians or business men. Francesco Cossiga (a former President of the Italian Republic) called him affectionately “Donatino”, Giulio Andreotti (many times Prime Minister in the past) gave him his utmost esteem. And then aristocrats, financiers, artists like Sofia Loren. The monsignore had the power to give the authorization to open a secret current account at the IOR and that explained why among all those privileged ones there were also those who had to respond to justice.
Sometimes monsignor De Bonis personally accompanied the current account holders with their cash and gold to the caveau, through a staircase, to the top of the tower, “nearer to the sky”. The contrast between Caloia and De Bonis, the latter theoretically an underling, were frequent and very harsh. Giancarlo Galli commented: “ A golden managerial law says that in case of conflict between a superior and a subordinate, the latter would give up. But being the IOR a very particular institution, when a lay person collides with a tunic bearer, then the latter would prevail”.
Caloia’s financial glasnot proceeded very quickly, but that didn’t impede that the IOR’s shade was evocated during all the scandals of the last twenty years. From those connected with the politicians to the massacres of the two best and honest Sicilian prosecutors in 1993 and from the recent illegal attempts to buy banks illegally to the recent Soccer League scandal. But as it appeared, that shade disappeared. Nobody knew or wanted to look beyond the impenetrable walls of the Vatican bank.
The autumn of 1993 was the most cruel season for many of the most important political leaders. Soon afterward the real or fake suicides of businessmen like Gabriele Cagliari and Raul Gardini, in the morning of October 4, a telephone call is made to the President of the IOR by chief prosecutor Francesco Saverio Borrelli: “ Dear Professor, there are problems regarding IOR, its contacts with Enimonts…..”. The fact is that the biggest share of the “mother of all kickbacks”, precisely 108 billion lire in Treasury Bonds, transited through the IOR. The money had been in the current account of an old client, Luigi Bisignani, a member of P2 and journalist, collaborator of the Ferruzzi group and free lance business man, later sentenced to 3 years and 4 months of jail for the Enimont scandal and recently investigated by prosecutor Luigi De Magistris for another scandal, which was dubbed “Why Not”.
After Borrelli’s telephone call, President Caloia hurried for consultation with monsignor Renato Dardozzi, a fiduciary of Secretary of State Cardinal Agostino Casaroli, “ Monsignor Dardozzi – he told Galli - with his “elegant” language said I was in the shit and, to make me understand that, he ordered a camp bed for me so that I could live in the Vatican. I opposed that, answering I would continue to live in the Hassler hotel. However I accepted the advise to consult some law scholars. An answer to Borrelli had in any case to be given !” The answer consisted of a few but final lines: “ Any answer could be given only through an international rogatory request”.
The magistrates evaluated the rogatory hypothesis. The IOR doesn’t own any bank in the Italian territory, it doesn’t issue any checks and as “a main institution of the Vatican City” it’s protected by the Concordato (the accord made with dictator Mussolini in 1929): any request must be made through the Italian Foreign Ministry. The probability to get a rogatory in these conditions are zero.
In addition to that the effect of an investigation by the judges in Milan would have a devastating effect in the public opinion. The magistrates gave up and pretended to be satisfied from the official explanation: “ The IOR couldn’t know about the destination of the money”.
The second episode, even darker, dates back to the mid-nineties, during the mafia trial to Marcello Dell’Utri. In a video conference from USA, former mafia man Francesco Marino Mannoia revealed that “Licio Gelli had invested Toto Riina’s money, the mafia boss of Corleone, in the Vatican bank”. “ The IOR guaranteed the Corleone mafia investments and discretion”. Mannoia’s confessions are first rate. He had been the chief of all the heroin refineries activities of Western Sicily, which was the main source of profit for the mafia gangs. He couldn’t but know where that money went. In addition to that he advanced an hypothesis. “When the Pope (John Paul II) came to Sicily and excommunicated the mafia men, the bosses were very angry at him because they brought their money to the Vatican. That’s the reason why two bombs were made to explode in front of two churches in Rome”.
Mannoia wasn’t one of secondary importance. According to Giovanni Falcone, the prosecutor subsequently slain by the mafia in Sicily, he was “the most trustworthy of the collaborators of justice”, even more precious than former mafia boss Buscetta. Any of his statements found objective proofs. Only in one instance there were no proceedings to ascertain the facts, which is the one about the IOR.
The magistrates of the Dell’Utri’s case didn’t investigate the IOR because it wasn’t strictly related to the accused or former Prime Minister Berlusconi and sent their papers to their colleagues, who were investigating former Prime Minister Andreotti. Prosecutor Scarpinato and the other investigators knew about the experience made by Borrelli and they didn’t sign the request for the international rogatory. Someone in the Palace of Justice in Palermo observed: “ Didn’t we already make enough enemies to go now even against the Vatican?”.
On the the IOR dealings a curtain fell for about ten years, until the failed takeover of an important bank by the so called “furbetti del quartierino” ( an expression used to describe the authors of that attempt: “the sly upstarts of an humble neighbourhood”). On July 10 last year the chief of the “furbetti”, Giampiero Fiorani, confessed to the investigators when he was in jail: “At the Swiss Bsi there are three current accounts of the Holy See, which amount, I am not exaggerating, to two three billion Euros”. Fiorani reported to the Milan prosecutor, Francesco Greco, the list of his “black” money deposited in the Vatican coffers: “The first “black” money I deposited was given to cardinal Castillo Lara (the President of Apsa, the administration of real estate belonging to the church) when I bought the Cassa Lombarda. He asked me thirty billion lires, possibly coming from a foreign current account.
Other deposits followed, many of them, to judge from the lamentation of the same Fiorani when he met cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, the powerful prefect of the congregation of the Italian Bishops and right hand of Cardinal Ruini: “ I’m one who always gave you money, always in cash, and everything was OK, but when I fell into disgrace you don’t even make a phone call to my wife to know if I’m well or not”.
The Vatican soon abandoned Fiorani, but on the other hand defended Antonio Fazio (the former Governor of the Bank of Italy) until he was forced to resign, when he was abandoned by everyone. The two Vatican newspapers Avvenire and Osservatore Romano repeated until the last day the theory of a “political plot” against the Governor. On the other hand, the career of that strange banker who at the meetings of the European Central Bank’s Governors never cited Keynes but for at least one hundred times only the Papal encyclicals, can be partly explained by the Vatican support.
He was under the protection of cardinal Camillo Ruini and cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, an intimate friend of Fazio, who had celebrated the Mass for the 25th anniversary of the Governor’s wedding with Cristina Maria Rosati.
Obviously the reports by Fiorani weren’t used to discover the secrets of the IOR and the Apsa and their singular relationship with the Swiss banks and the fiscal paradises all over the world. It’s difficult to explain for example that “pastoral exigencies” dictated the necessity to separate the Cayman Islands from the natural Jamaican diocese of Kingston, putting them “missio sui iuris” under the direct power of the Holy See and under the supervision of Cardinal Adam Joseph Maida, a member of the IOR college.
The fourth and last involvement of IOR in the Italian scandals is almost comic in comparison to the previous ones and is relative to Calciopoli (as it was dubbed the recent match fixing scandal regarding many Italian soccer teams). According to the investigators in Rome, Mr. Palamara and Mr. Palaia, the black funds of Gea, the society of mediation run by Mr. Moggi, one of the principal authors of the scandal, were deposited in the Vatican bank, through the good offices of another trusted Vatican banker with a not very clean past record, Mr. Cesare Geronzi, father of the main stockholder in Gea. It’s alleged that in the IOR’s caveau there is deposited the personal “little treasure” belonging to Luciano Moggi, esteemed to be in the order of 150 million Euros. As usual, rogatories and controls are impossible. But it’s sure Mr. Moggi enjoys a great consideration in the Vatican. The catholic press always defended him and he was always well received in the Cardinal Ruini’s court during the pilgrimages to Lourdes. He now even runs a column of “sports and ethics” in the daily on-line newspaper close to Pope Benedict XVI, where the former manager of the Juventus soccer team, arraigned for corruption, is now throwing the first stones against other people’s corruption.
With the image of Luciano Moggi, master of catholic moral, we close the last episode of our investigation about the money of the church. The IOR’s secrets will remain perhaps for ever buried in the case-tower.
The age of Marcinkus is now in the archives but the opacity encircling the bank of the Holy See is very far from dissolving in transparent waters.
We only know that the coffers and the caveau of the IOR have never been so full and that deposits continue to flow, encouraged from 12% yearly interest rates or even higher. To give precise numbers is, as it was said, impossible. The few ascertained ones are the following. With a per capita income above $ 407,000 the Vatican city is by large the “richest State in the world”, can be read in the recent Marina Marinetti’s inquest published on Panorama Economy. According to some Fed’s estimate in 2002, the outcome of the only inquest by an International authority on the Vatican’s finance and limited only to the Usa territory, the catholic church owned in USA $298 million in bonds, $195 million in stocks, $102 million in long term securities, in addition to $ 273 million in joint ventures with Usa partners.
No Italian authority has ever started an investigation to ascertain the economic weight of the Vatican in its host country. An enormous power, direct and indirect. In the last decades the catholic world conquered the traditional stronghold of the lay and liberalist Italian minorities, the financial world. Since the death of financier Enrico Cuccia, the worst enemy of Sindona, Calvi and the IOR, the “white finance” conquered more and more space. The definition is surely generic and it includes people with different background. But all of them maintain a close relationship with the Vatican hierarchies, with the catholic associations and with the prelature of the Opus Dei. In an Italy where politics counts less than finance, the catholic church wields more power in the bank business than in the period in which the country was mainly run by the Christian Democratic party.
(With the collaboration of Carlo Pontesilli and Maurizio Turco)
( January 26, 2008)