ROME - A Vatican official. A private plane. And 20 million euros in cash.
Claiming to have foiled a caper worthy of Hollywood, the Italian police on Friday arrested a priest and two others on corruption charges as part of a complex plot last summer in which they say the priest — already suspected of money laundering — plotted to help wealthy friends sneak the money, the equivalent of about $26 million, into Italy.
Along with the prelate, a financial broker and a military police agent deployed to the Italian Secret Service were arrested and charged with corruption, and the priest also with slander, in an investigation that developed out of a broader three-year inquiry into the Vatican Bank. The case is the latest black mark on the bank, which under Popes Francis and Benedict has been trying to shake its image as a secretive offshore haven.
Rome prosecutors say the three men hired a private plane last July with the intention of bringing the cash into Italy from Locarno, Switzerland. The money was to be carried by the Secret Service agent, who would not be required to declare it at the border. But the scheme fell through, the prosecutors said, as the three bickered.
Prosecutor Nello Rossi said wiretaps had picked up people discussing how the money was tied to the D’Amico family, Salerno shipping magnates.
Even before his arrest, the priest, the Rev. Nunzio Scarano, was no stranger to authorities. An employee of Deutsche Bank before entering the priesthood and until recently an accountant in a top Vatican financial office, Scarano was under investigation by magistrates in Salerno on accusations that he had illegally moved $730,000 in cash from his account in the Vatican Bank to Italian banks.
In a statement Friday, the Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, said Scarano had been suspended from his position at the Vatican “more than a month ago.”
He confirmed the Vatican’s willingness for full collaboration, and that its internal financial watchdog was following the matter.