By David Willey
29 Jun 2013
“It’s like the end of the Berlin Wall,” said a high-ranking Vatican official last week after an invisible financial barrier marking the legal separation between the Vatican and Italy was breached for the first time.
According to officials at the Bank of Italy, the Institute for Works of Religion – the Vatican’s own offshore bank – has for years been allowing organised criminals, even terrorists, to launder money with impunity.
On Friday, Italian tax police arrested a high-ranking Italian prelate, Monsignor Nunzio Scarano, who until last month was working as a senior accountant inside the Vatican’s financial administration. They also arrested a financial intermediary and an agent from Italy’s secret services on charges of conspiring with Mgr Scarano to commit crimes of embezzlement and money laundering.
Mgr Scarano is alleged to have masterminded a plot that sounds like an airport novel. He attempted to bring €20million in cash belonging to a wealthy family of shipowners from a Swiss bank to Rome in a private plane, thereby evading customs and tax controls.
Italian prosecutors have had their eye on the Vatican bank for several years but, until now, have had great difficulty in obtaining any information from the Holy See, which has pleaded diplomatic immunity and exemption from normal international banking rules on the grounds that the Institute for Works of Religion “is not a bank in the normal sense of the word”.
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