Vatican freezes assets of arrested monsignor, warns probe may extend

VATICAN CITY – The Vatican has frozen the assets of a monsignor who was arrested in a plot to smuggle 20 million euro ($26 million) into Italy and warned Friday that other people may be caught up in the investigation.

The Vatican’s chief prosecutor on July 9 froze the accounts at the Vatican bank of Monsignor Nunzio Scarano, who was arrested by Italian authorities June 28 on accusations of corruption and slander. Scarano allegedly plotted to bring 20 million euro into Italy from Switzerland in July of last year aboard a private jet to avoid declaring it at customs.

Prosecutors say the money was believed to have belonged to friends of Scarano, members of the d’Amico shipping family. Scarano has reportedly told prosecutors he stood to gain 2.5 million euro in commission for the operation.

A judge has refused to grant him house arrest; he remains at Rome’s Queen of Heaven prison.

In a statement Friday, the Vatican said its own investigation into Scarano was triggered by several reports of suspicious transactions filed with the Vatican’s financial watchdog agency. It said its probe “could be extended to additional individuals.”

Italian prosecutors have said Scarano, a recently suspended accountant in the Vatican’s main finance office, had two accounts at the Vatican bank: One was his personal account and another one, named “Fondo Anziani” was purportedly used to receive charitable donations. The amount frozen wasn’t believed to be anything near the 20 million involved in the smuggling plot.

In addition to the money-smuggling case, Scarano is also under investigation by prosecutors in his hometown of Salerno for allegedly taking 560,000 euros ($729,000) in cash out of his Vatican account in 2009 and carrying it into Italy to help pay off a mortgage on his Salerno home. He used a complicated scheme to give dozens of friends 10,000 in cash in exchange for checks, made out to be donations, that he then deposited in an Italian bank account.

The money had come into Scarano’s Vatican bank account from donors who gave it to the prelate thinking they were funding a home for the terminally ill in Salerno that was never built, Scarano’s lawyer Silverio Sica has said. Prosecutor Nello Rossi has said the donors included the d’Amicos. The family has denied wrongdoing and says it is co-operating with authorities.

Pope Francis has zeroed in on the Vatican bank, the Institute for Works of Religion, as the first phase of his reform of the Vatican bureaucracy. This week he attended the inaugural session of a commission of inquiry he formed to look into the IOR’s activities. The Vatican newspaper said Francis personally attended “to encourage the commission’s work.”

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