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Vatican cleric arrested in smuggling case

VATICAN CITY -- A Vatican cleric and two other people were arrested yesterday by Italian police for allegedly trying to smuggle cash worth $26 million into the country from Switzerland by private jet. It's the latest scandal to hit the Holy See and broadens an Italian probe into its secretive bank.

Msgr. 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 said.

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.

Rossi said the Swiss operation involved three people, all of whom were arrested yesterday: 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 money belonged to friends who had given it 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.

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.

The Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, said Scarano was suspended last month and that the Vatican was taking the appropriate measures to deal with his case.


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