A £19million money laundering scandal rocked the Vatican today – just days after Pope Benedict XVI’s successful visit to Britain.
Police said the Vatican Bank’s chairman Ettore Gotti Tedeschi, who is known to the Pontiff, was under investigation for suspected failure to observe money-laundering laws.
The probe was launched after tax police in Rome were alerted to two suspicious transactions totaling £19million (23million euro).
Officers said another bank official – named by Italian media as director general Paolo Cipriani – was also being investigated.
A statement from the Vatican appeared to confirm this – it said it was ‘perplexed’ by the investigation but had ‘full faith in chairman and director general.’
A statement read: ‘The Holy See manifests puzzlement and amazement at the initiative by the Rome prosecutor’s office, given that the necessary information is already available at the relevant office of the Bank of Italy, and similar transactions commonly take place with other Italian banks.’
God’s Banker Roberto Calvi, 62, was found hanging from Blackfriars Bridge in June 1982 with $15,000 in banknotes and bricks stuffed into his pockets.
At first his death was treated by City of London police as suicide but Italian counterparts were suspicious and the case was reopened with five people being charged with his murder.
They went on trial in 2007 and among them was jailed Godfather Pippo Calo, already serving life and who gave his evidence via a video link to the court – which was held in a bunker at Rome’s top security Rebibbia jail.
The court heard from a series of Mafia supergrasses that Calo ordered Calvi’s murder after he bungled a £150m money-laundering operation.
Calvi had fled to London to try and escape the Mafia but they tracked him down to a flat in Chelsea where he was hiding. He was duped by his killers into thinking they were taking him via the River Thames to a container ship bound for South America but instead he was murdered.
The five were all cleared of murder at the original trial and a later appeal but a fresh one has been launched by prosecutors in Rome against them and they remain convinced Calvi was murdered.
The £19million was impounded as a precautionary measure.
Rome prosecutors Nello Rossi and Stefano Rocco Fava opened their investigation earlier this year to see whether a 2007 law passed in Italy calling on transparency of accounts had been breached.
Alarm bells rang over two suspicious transactions involving a 20million euro transfer to the German bank J.P.Morgan Frankfurt and three million sent to a central-Italian bank, Banca del Fucino.
Prosecution sources said the investigation was to see if the bank had breached regulations for failing to reveal the identity of the person holding the accounts.
They are trying to discover the beneficiaries of cheques and bank drafts issued from the Vatican Bank accounts and who ordered them.
It is not the first time the bank, known as the Istituto per le Opere Religiose, has been implicated in money laundering – in 1982 it was linked to the £2billion collapse of another bank, Credito Ambrosiano.
Then governor Archbishop Paul Marcinkus escaped investigation by claiming Vatican immunity but in a twist worthy of a Dan Brown blockbuster, Ambrosiano’s president Roberto Calvi was found hanging under London’s Blackfriars Bridge.
Calvi was known as God’s Banker because of his connections to Marcinkus and the Vatican Bank.
His death was initially ruled as suicide but then became murder after further investigation.
He was found with bundles of cash and stones in his pockets. Italian police believe he was killed by the Mafia after a bungled money laundering scam.
American Archbishop Marcinkus died in 2006, taking the secret of what happened in 1982 to the grave and never fully explaining his involvement with Calvi. He famously once said: ‘You can’t run the Church on Hail Mary’s.’