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Unholy mess: Vatican amidst mafia money-laundering scandal

Published time: June 13, 2012 14:45
Edited time: June 17, 2012 12:06
Catholic priests (AFP Photo/Getty Images)

Catholic priests (AFP Photo/Getty Images)

The Vatican Bank is under media fire as reports emerge that Italian prosecutors suspect it of laundering Sicilian mafia bosses’ riches.

­The Institute for Works of Religion, commonly known as the Vatican Bank, has so far refused to disclose details of an account held by a priest in connection with a money laundering and fraud investigation.

Father Ninni Treppiedi was sacked from serving as a priest after a series of church funds transactions made by his parish came to anti-mafia prosecutors’ attention this spring. The dealings, involving millions of euro, date back to 2007-2009.

Prosecutors suspect Treppiedi was involved in money-laundering operations linked to Matteo Messina Denaro, a Mafia Godfather on the run. The cleric’s former post in Aclamo, near Trapani, is said to be the richest parish in the Mafia stronghold of Sicily.

Trapani prosecutor Marcello Viola made the request to disclose Treppiedi’s account details over six weeks ago. But the Vatican, though confirming the request has been received, maintains the issue is not mafia-related.

The letter the Vatican received on May 9 did not speak of any money laundering or mafia issues. It contained concerns over shortages and fraud made by ecclesiastical authorities in the Diocese of Trapani,” the Vatican spokesman told the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera on Monday.

The first reports on the scandal emerged in the Italian media two weeks after the head of the Vatican Bank, Ettore Gotti Tedeschi, was ousted after receiving a unanimous vote of no-confidence from bank overseers.

The banker is under investigation for another case of alleged money laundering. But there is speculation that the actual reason behind the no-confidence vote is that Tedeschi was aware of possible mafia links and leaked names and accounts details to police.

The new media buzz does not add up to the Vatican’s gravitas. Earlier in the week, the office had to deny that Pope Benedict’s butler is being treated “as a scapegoat” in the so-called “Vatileaks case.”

Butler Paolo Gabriele is still being questioned over the passing to whistleblowers of sensitive documents revealing corruption in the Vatican’s business deals with Italian companies. Gabriele could face up to eight years in prison if convicted.