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A Jordanian-American contractor in Southern California is suing the Holy See for $31 million, claiming fraud and breach of contract.
Benjamin Seryani and his lawyer are battling in San Bernadino Superior Court for the jurisdictional right to sue the Holy See in the state of California.
If the court finds it has jurisdiction, it will be the first time the Vatican — a separate, sovereign nation — will have to appear in U.S. court.
The case dates back to 2012, when patriarch of Jerusalem Fouad Twal recruited Seryani to help build and manage a brand-new Catholic university in Madaba, Jordan, called "American University of Madaba."
Stephen Brady, founder, Roman Catholic Faithful:
Benjamin's family was related to the former patriarch of Jerusalem. That's why he was given full power of attorney, which is unheard of. He was honored that they would come to his home and ask him to help with something like this. It was their church. They're very religious people. I've gone out to their home. I've met them and their family. And they were honored to do whatever they could.
2012 and 2013, when Seryani was recruited and set to work at the new university, were years of record Vatican financial scandals.
This was the spiral of scandal into which Seryani was pulled.
When Seryani began digging into the books and found the fledgling university was $7 million in debt, the Vatican sent various loan and business deals for him to consider.
All of them involved hundreds of millions of dollars, amounts way beyond what was required. Seryani got suspicious. Where was the excess money going? Why was he being asked to sign all the contracts and take all responsibility?
Chris Mangiaracina, former FBI investigator:
I got involved in this fight a little over three and half years ago, and I've investigated organized crime cases; money-laundering cases all over the world; heads of governments in South America; heads of the mafia, in Italy worked closely with Italian anti-Mafia agencies; and when I saw what was going on and the way the money was being acquired and who they were associated with, I thought they [Vatican officials] were master money launderers.
Seryani was concerned Vatican officials and other players were trying to make him the fall guy. The image of Roberto Calvi, a Vatican Bank executive who was found hanging from London's Black Friars Bridge in the 1980s, was top of mind.
Despite his legitimate fears, Seryani refused to green-light the massive influx of cash into the university and what appeared to be a scheme to use the university to launder money.
His refusal triggered the hostile response from the Vatican. Officials canceled his contracts, confiscated his property and threw him out of Jordan. Now, he's suing.
This case involves numerous defendants, including Vatican secretary of state His Eminence Pietro Parolin.