A senior Vatican cleric has been arrested along with a member of Italy’s secret services and a financial broker on suspicion of plotting to smuggle 20 million euros (US$26 million) into the country illegally from Switzerland.
Nunzio Scarano, a prelate from Salerno in southern Italy, reportedly known as “monsignor 500” for his fondness for high- denomination euro notes, was arrested in Rome on suspicion of corruption and slander for his alleged part in an aborted plan to bring back millions of euros to Italy in July last year on behalf of some friends.
Despite the fact that prosecutors do not believe the Vatican bank was directly linked to the alleged plot, the arrests, which stem from a wider investigation into the secretive bank, are likely to bring fresh embarrassment for the Vatican in the era of a pontiff who has said he wants “a poor church” and ethical finance.
In the alleged plot, prosecutor Nello Rossi told reporters that the prelate had approached Giovanni Zito, an agent with the Italian secret services, to ask him whether he could help facilitate an “intricately planned” scheme to return the money on board a private plane from Locarno without having to pass customs.
The money had been given to Giovanni Carenzio, a Swiss-based broker, to invest, and between them the three planned to bring back 40 million euros to Italy, a figure later reduced to 20 million euros, Rossi said.
The plan was not carried out, due to disagreements among the three, Rossi added.
Scarano’s lawyer, Silverio Sica, said his client had just been a middleman trying to help his friends.
Until recently, Scarano was employed as an accountant in the Administration of the Patrimony of the Apostolic See, a unit inside the Vatican that deals with property owned by the Holy See and is separate from the Vatican bank, known officially as the Institute for Religious Works (IOR). When, more than a month ago, they were told the cleric was under investigation by prosecutors in his native Salerno looking into separate allegations of money laundering, his superiors suspended him, the Vatican’s spokesman Federico Lombardi said.
Scarano, who is in his early 60s, was being investigated on suspicion of using 560,000 euros of donations in a personal IOR account to pay off his personal mortgage in Italy. To do so he allegedly asked 56 friends to accept 10,000 euros each in return for a cheque to an Italian bank account.
The funds had been intended for a home for the terminally ill.
Sica has said Scarano only took the money “temporarily” and had intended to use the proceeds of the property sale to pay it back.
In an interview, Scarano denied having ever stolen or laundered money.