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Vatican bankers quizzed

'Everything done by the rules' says Gotti Tedeschi

30 September, 16:31
Vatican bankers quizzed

(ANSA) - Rome, September 30 - The Vatican Bank's top two executives were questioned for several hours Thursday in a probe into suspected money laundering and told reporters afterwards they had done nothing wrong.

"We asked to be questioned, everything was done according to the rules," said Istituto per le Opere Religiose (IOR) President Ettore Gotti Tedeschi, suspected of failure to observe Italian money-laundering rules along with Director-General Paolo Cipriani.

"There has been a misunderstanding which we intend to clear up with prosecutors," said Gotti Tedeschi, who has been at the helm of the IOR for about a year.

There was no immediate word from the prosecutors, who are probing two allegedly suspicious transfers, one of 20 million euros and the other of three million, which prompted a precautionary seizure of 23 million euros earlier this month. The Vatican has staunchly defended the two men, who were placed under investigation on September 21. In a letter to the Financial Times last week, Vatican Spokesman Father Federico Lombardi also said the case was the result of a misunderstanding.

Lombardi said he was keen to avoid "the spread of inaccurate information" about the probe.

He said that since he was appointed last year, Gotti Tedeschi had been working to "ensure the absolute transparency of the IOR's activities and its compliance with the norms and procedures which will allow the Holy See to be included in (the international money-laundering) 'White List'".

The spokesman reiterated the Vatican's "perplexity and amazement" at the "surprise" probe and said "the nature and aims" of the two allegedly suspicious transactions "could have been clarified with great simplicity, being cash transactions the beneficiary of which is the (IOR) itself".

"The Holy See reiterates its complete confidence in the managers of IOR", Father Lombardi added.

In the precautionary measure, prosecutors impounded some 23 million euros the IOR transferred to the Credito Artigiano SpA, a private bank that is part of the Credito Valtellinese group.

It was the first time such action had been taken against the IOR, which, as the Bank of Italy recently recalled, is to be considered a non-European Union bank.

The probe was opened by Rome magistrates to determine whether a 2007 Italian law on transparency in regard to the identity of account holders was violated.

The possibility that the Vatican accounts violated this law was raised by the Bank of Italy's financial intelligence unit which on September 15 suspended the two transactions ordered by the IOR because they looked suspicious.

These involved 20 million euros sent to the German bank J.P.Morgan Frankfurt, and three million sent to a central-Italian bank, Banca del Fucino.

The IOR, or Institute for Religious Works, has been in the headlines before, most notably in connection with the 1982 fraudulent bankruptcy of Banco Ambrosiano, then Italy's largest bank, run by Roberto 'God's Banker' Calvi, whose body was subsequently found hanged under London's Blackfriars Bridge.

Italian prosecutors say Calvi was killed for failing to repay Mafia money and his murder was staged to make it look like suicide. There was no suggestion of Vatican involvement.

The IOR was also named in kickbacks probes stemming from the 1990 collapse of public-private colossus Enimont, part of the Clean Hands investigations that swept away Italy's old political establishment.

Gotti Tedeschi, 65, is a close adviser to Italian Economy Minister Giulio Tremonti, serves on the board of several Italian banks, and heads an Italian branch of Spain's Banco Santander.

photo: Gotti Tedeschi

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