Vatican Bank Head Jailed for Embezzlement

News: World News
by Jules Gomes  •  •  January 22, 2021   

Highest-ranking Holy See official punished for pocketing millions

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VATICAN CITY ( - A Vatican court has sentenced a former president of the Vatican bank to nearly nine years in prison for embezzlement and money laundering.

Angelo Caloia, disgraced former head of the Vatican Bank

On Thursday, the court convicted Angelo Caloia, 81, head of the Institute for Works of Religion (Istituto per le Opere di Religione or IOR) — the official name of the Vatican Bank — of siphoning off up to 57 million euros.

Caloia, who was awarded eight years and 11 months in jail, was sentenced along with his two accomplices — Gabriele Liuzzo, 97, and his son Lamberto Liuzzo, 55 — Italian lawyers who were the bank's consultants.

Gabriele Liuzzo was given the same sentence as Caloia, while his son was given a lighter sentence of five years and two months.

The trio allegedly pocketed millions while managing the sale of 29 of the bank's properties — most of them in or near Rome between 2002–2007 — and declaring a book value far less than the actual amount of the sale.

The Vatican court also ordered the sequestering of 38 million euros in defendants' bank accounts that were frozen and a payment of over 23 million euros as compensation to the Vatican bank and its real estate division, with the possibility of further damages.

IOR intends to pursue by civil and criminal judicial proceedings any illicit activity carried out to its detriment, no matter where it occurred and who performed it.

Some proceeds were deposited in a Rome bank account that was not registered on the IOR's balance sheet, according to documents seen by Reuters at the start of the investigation.

Commitment to Transparency?

German businessman and former IOR president Ernst von Freyberg began an investigation into the scam in 2013, soon after his predecessor Caloia stepped down from the office he had held from 1999–2009.

According to an IOR statement, the "unlawful conduct" by Caloia and his accomplices "was carried out between 2001 and 2008" and "resulted in the disposal of a considerable part of the Institute's real estate assets."

"Overall damages have been assessed in excess of 50 million euros," the IOR said, closing a chapter in the cleanup of financial fraud committed during the pontificates of Pope St. John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI.

"The decision of committal for trial was taken at the end of an investigation which has been carried out since 2014 by the Vatican Promotor of Justice, following IOR's complaint," it noted.

The bank emphasized how this "important step" showed "the significant commitment that IOR's management has undertaken in the last four years in order to implement strong and transparent governance, which complies with the most rigorous international standards."

"IOR intends to pursue by civil and criminal judicial proceedings any illicit activity carried out to its detriment, no matter where it occurred and who performed it," it announced.

Pope Francis established ... the first commission in history to review the bank after the numerous scandals in which it had been embroiled.

None of the defendants were present for the sentencing in the tiny Vatican court. Caloia's attorney, Domenico Pulitanò, said he would appeal.

The court found insufficient evidence to convict in regard to the sale of some of the properties. All denied wrongdoing during the trial, which began in 2018.

The IOR released in June 2020 its independently audited financial statement for the eighth consecutive year in a bid to increase transparency and accountability.

Institute for Works of Religion, also known as the Vatican Bank

The bank's financial data for 2019 includes 5.1 billion euros of client assets, of which 3.4 billion are assets managed for third parties or under custody.

Financial Watchdogs Established

In 2010, Pope Benedict XVI set up a financial watchdog, now called the Supervisory and Financial Information Authority (Autorità di Supervisione e Informazione Finanziaria — ASIF), to monitor the IOR's compliance with international standards on financial crimes.

The ASIF was tasked with "the supervision and the regulation aimed at the prevention and countering of money laundering and the financing of terrorism and for the financial intelligence, as well as for the prudential supervision and regulation of those entities that carry out a financial activity on a professional basis."

In June 2013, the very first year of his pontificate, Pope Francis established the Pontifical Commission for Reference on the IOR, the first commission in history to review the bank after the numerous scandals in which it had been embroiled.

Pope Pius XII founded the IOR in 1942,  although its origins go back to 1887 and the pontificate of Pope Leo XIII.

New Trial Ahead

Meanwhile, Cecilia Marogna, the glamorous 39-year-old Sardinian super-fixer who pocketed over half a million euros from the Vatican for covert consultancy, will likely be put on trial for "embezzlement committed in conspiracy with others," the chief prosecutor of Vatican City's civil court announced Monday.

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