Monsignor 500: '€20m in suitcase wasn't for me'
The Catholic priest at the heart of a Vatican money scandal has claimed he did not act for personal gain when he attempted to bring €20m into Italy from Switzerland illicitly.
Monsignor Nunzio Scarano (left) will be questioned by investigators today in the 17th-century Rome prison in which he is being held, as details emerge of the complex scheme.
Nicknamed by fellow priests "Monsignor 500" for his habit of flashing a wallet full of €500 notes, the 61-year-old cleric has insisted he committed no crime when he allegedly tried to import the cash on board a private jet.
"Monsignor Scarano will answer all questions and will explain what his role was, showing that he had no personal interest in the matter," Silverio Sica, his lawyer, said. "There was no profit in it for him and he acted purely in a spirit of friendship."
That "friendship" was with the heirs to a large Neapolitan shipping company, to whom the €20m allegedly belonged.
Msgr Scarano, who worked in a bank in the 1980s, allegedly funnelled hundreds of thousands of euro through accounts he held with the Vatican bank, known officially as the Institute for the Works of Religion.
He worked as a senior accountant in a Vatican department that manages the Holy See's property and other assets, but was suspended a month ago when the corruption allegations came to light.
His close contacts with the Vatican bank "enabled him to act as a very private and illicit branch" of the bank, according to Nello Rossi, one of the prosecutors in the case, amid questions about how much his superiors knew about his illicit activities.
One of the accounts he held was for his personal use while the other was designated "fondo anziani" – funds for old people.
Msgr Scarano allegedly conspired with Giovanni Maria Zito, an agent with one of Italy's secret services who is now being held in a military prison, and Giovanni Carenzio, a financial broker from Pompeii near Naples, to smuggle the €20m from a Swiss UBS bank account into Italy.
The money – in €500 notes – was reportedly in a suitcase ready for the flight last summer, but the plot failed to come to fruition.
The alleged scam came to light because Msgr Scarano was being monitored over a separate corruption investigation into his activities in Salerno, near Naples. (© Daily Telegraph, London)