Vatican police on Saturday apprehended an American and a Dutch man who were allegedly trying to deposit billions of euros and US dollars in fake bonds in the Vatican Bank.
The two men were stopped by police when they approached one of the guarded gates at the Vatican and asked to be let through to the Institute for Religious Works, as the bank is formally known, Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi said.
The reportedly fraudulent bonds were discovered in a briefcase the pair was carrying and they were then handed over to the Guardia di Finanza, Italy’s financial law enforcement agency, which found fake passports and other falsified documents in their hotel rooms.
The haul came a day after Italian prosecutors said that two former top Vatican Bank executives will go on trial for money laundering in a case that led to the seizure of 23 million euros (US$32 million).
Institute for Religious Works press officer Max Hohenberg said that the US and Dutch suspects “are neither clients of the bank, nor were they expected.”
The bank, which handles the accounts of Catholic clerics and congregations around the world, has a murky reputation, but the Vatican has vowed to clean it up and bring it in line with international laws.
Lombardi said Saturday’s incident “shows the controls are working, but I don’t think we’re talking about a plot by criminal masterminds if they managed to get caught at the first hurdle.”
The Institute for Religious Works has a troubled history, including the 1982 collapse of the Banco Ambrosiano — in which the Holy See was the main shareholder — and which had been accused of laundering money for the Sicilian mafia.