Italy police seize 3,500 fake 'Pope Francis blessing' during counterfeit raid
Italian police have confiscated 3,500 counterfeit 'blessings' by Pope Francis that were being sold to pilgrims in Rome, authorities said.
The bogus parchments, with elaborate lettering and pictures of the pope, were found in the printing shop of a souvenir store near the Vatican, and the proprietor was charged with producing counterfeit goods, a police statement said.
It said the parchments were printed in Italian, Spanish, Portuguese and English and had an overall value of about €70,000.
The Vatican's Apostolic Almonry, or distributor of papal charities, sells authentic parchments bearing words of blessing from the pope.
The proceeds go to fund various projects to help the poor and needy of Rome.
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Interior Minister Angelino Alfano showed journalists one of the documents complete with a fake papal seal and a photograph of the smiling pontiff.
They are adorned with elaborate gothic calligraphy and usually contain words of good wishes and a papal blessing for occasions such as births, weddings and anniversaries.
Working with Vatican police, detectives uncovered the printer behind the scam as well as a shop near Saint Peter's Basilica where the scrolls were being sold.
Last year, the Vatican stopped outsourcing the production of the parchments and returned to the ancient practice of making them all in-house.
The Vatican said at the time that this was so all the proceeds would go directly to charities.
The colourful and ornate parchments, which for centuries were painted and written by hand, have since January been produced electronically to cut production costs and reduce the risk of fraud.