The Vatican announced Friday that it has frozen the funds of a senior cleric who is at the centre of a suspected money smuggling operation.
Monsignor Nunzio Scarano was arrested last month, accused of planning to bring 20 million euros from Switzerland to Italy for wealthy friends. Scarano has close links to the Vatican bank and was arrested following a complex investigation involving wiretaps which revealed plots to smuggle cash past customs. He was arrested along with an Italian secret service agent and a financial broker.
Scarano was a former senior accountant in the Holy See’s financial administration, he is currently being held in Rome’s Queen of Heaven jail where he is also embroiled in another investigation linked with his accounts at the Vatican bank.
The Vatican bank has not been directly implicated in the case but it is already dealing with its own investigation into suspected money laundering, the bank denies the accusations.
Scarano came to the authorities’ attention back in January when he called police to his apartment to report a burglary. Police were stunned upon entering the apartment, which was lined with expensive art and divided by Roman-style columns. The stolen goods were estimated to be worth 6 million euros and included works by Giorgio de Chirico and Renato Guttuso.
The extravagant lifestyle of the monsignor interested investigators and they began a search into Scarano’s finances. One investigator spoke anonymously to Reuters earlier this month saying: “We asked ourselves how did this monsignor come to own this place and possess these expensive works of art… He said they were all donations. It is a luxury apartment and we asked ourselves how he could have bought it and where the money came from.”
It is the latest in a series of scandals to rock the Catholic Church, which have been particularly uncomfortable for the new Pope whose message has always been the Church’s duty to the poor. Recently it was revealed recently that Pope Francis is forming a committee to investigate the findings of an external audit into the Vatican’s budget. He told the Council of Cardinals that he was thinking of creating a “study-group” to look into issues of transparency and accountability.