Senior cleric held after €20m found on private plane
Vatican rocked by smuggling investigation
A senior Catholic cleric with connections to the Vatican Bank has been arrested for plotting to help friends smuggle €20m in cash into Italy from Switzerland.
Monsignor Nunzio Scarano (61), who worked as a senior accountant in the Vatican's financial administration, was arrested along with an Italian secret service agent and a financial intermediary in a tale that reads like a spy novel.
It involves police wiretaps, a private plane rented to collect the cash from Locarno, burnt cell phones and an allegedly corrupt secret services agent who promised to get the money past customs.
The priest was known by colleagues as 'Monsignor 500' because of his penchant for opening up his wallet and showing that he only carried €500 notes.
The arrests came two days after Pope Francis appointed a special commission to oversee the Vatican Bank as part of an effort to clean up its murky finances.
Monsignor Scarano was arrested after allegedly trying to bring the cash into the country from Switzerland aboard an Italian government plane, in an attempt to circumvent laws on importing money.
The cash allegedly belonged to three brothers from an Italian family of shipping magnates, Paolo, Cesare and Maurizio D'Amico, who wanted it returned to them, investigators said.
Msgr Scarano allegedly put together the plot with the help of Giovanni Carenzio, a broker, and Giovanni Maria Zito, an Italian secret service agent who was suspended three months ago from Aisi, Italy's domestic intelligence agency.
The operation failed because Mr Carenzio reneged on the deal, lawyers said.
Mr Zito was promised a €400,000 'commission' for his part in the plot but only received €200,000.
Msgr Scarano, who was a bank teller before becoming a priest in 1987, was the head of accounts analysis in a Vatican agency which manages the assets of the Holy See and which is linked to the city state's bank. He was suspended a month ago.
After his arrest he was taken to Regina Coeli (Queen of the Skies), a prison in central Rome.
"He will clarify everything to the magistrates in Rome," said Silverio Sica, his lawyer.
Fr Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman, said the Holy See would co-operate with Italian authorities fully in their investigation of the alleged plot.
The Vatican Bank, described by 'Forbes' as "the most secret bank in the world", has been plagued by scandals, including allegations of money-laundering, for years.
Pope Francis has made reforming the bank one of the priorities of the first few months of his pontificate. Earlier this month he appointed a trusted prelate, Msgr Battista Mario Salvatore Ricca, to oversee the bank's management.
Founded in 1942, the bank does not lend money but manages assets of €7bn in around 19,000 accounts held by Vatican departments, Catholic charities and priests and nuns around the world. (© Daily Telegraph, London)