Priest, two others arrested in Vatican Bank probe

The three allegedly planned to bring into Italy some 20 million euros in cash.
 
 
An undated photo of Monsignor Nunzio Scarano in Salerno, Italy as appeared in Foxnews (AP Photo/Francesco Pecoraro)
Italian police arrested a Vatican cleric and two other people on Friday for allegedly trying to smuggle 20 million euros ($26 million) in cash into the country as investigation progressed into the workings of the Vatican bank, Associated Press reported.

Monsignor Nunzio Scarano, already under investigation in a purported money-laundering plot involving the Vatican bank, is accused of corruption and slander and was being held at a Rome prison, prosecutor Nello Rossi told reporters.
Scarano's arrest came just two days after Pope Francis created a commission of inquiry into the Vatican bank to get to the bottom of the problems that have plagued it for decades and contributed to the impression that it's an unregulated, offshore tax haven.

Prosecutor Rossi said the Swiss operation involved three people, all of whom were arrested Friday: Scarano, a recently suspended accountant in the Vatican's main finance office, Italian financier Giovanni Carenzio, and Giovanni Zito, who at the time of the plot was a member of the military police's agency for security and information.

Rossi detailed a remarkable plot — uncovered by telephone wiretaps — in which the three allegedly planned to bring into Italy some 20 million euros in cash that financier Carenzio held in his name in a Swiss bank account without paying customs at the airport, as would be required.

Scarano's attorney, Silverio Sica, said his client was something of a middleman: The 20 million euros belonged to friends who had given the money to Carenzio to invest but wanted it back. The plot would presumably enable them to avoid paying customs fees or having any paper trail of such a large amount of money entering Italy.

Rossi identified the friends as members of the Italian shipping family d'Amico and suggested that the money was being held in Switzerland to avoid paying Italian taxes. An email seeking comment from the family's Rome-based company, the d'Amico Societa di Navigazione SpA, wasn't immediately returned.

According to prosecutors, Zito, the agent, called in sick to his job one day in July 2012, rented a private plane and flew with Carenzio to Lucerne, Switzerland. There, Carenzio was supposed to withdraw the cash from his bank account and hand it over to Zito to bring back to Italy. The plan was so detailed there was even to be a car and driver waiting at the airport to bring the money to Scarano's apartment in Rome, Rossi said.

The money could have been transported relatively easily because euros are issued in high denominations. If the cash had been withdrawn in the largest denomination — 500 euro notes — it would have weighed 44 kilograms (97 pounds) and fit in a suitcase.

But at a certain point in Lucerne, the deal fell through and Carenzio made excuses that the bank couldn't come up with the money, Rossi said. He declined to identify the bank.

Zito returned to Rome empty-handed but still demanded from Scarano his fee of 600,000 euros for the operation. Scarano cut him one check for 400,000 euros which he deposited. He gave him a second check for 200,000 euros, but in a bid to prevent the check from being deposited, reported it as missing, the prosecutor said.

That put a block on the check and resulted in Scarano being accused of slander for filing a false report knowing that the check was in Zito's hands, Rossi said.

Scarano, as well as the other two, are also accused of corruption. If they are indicted and convicted, they could face up to five or six years in prison, prosecutors said.

Sica, the lawyer, said Scarano had no immediate comment on the charges.

The Vatican bank, known as the Institute for Religious Works, or IOR, is cooperating with Italian authorities and its lay board has launched an internal investigation, spokesman Max Hohenberg said.