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Vatican ‘perplexed’ by money laundering probe

The Vatican is "perplexed and surprised" by a money laundering probe that resulted in the seizure of $30 million from the Vatican bank and an investigation of its chairman.
/ Source: msnbc.com news services

The Vatican said Tuesday it is "perplexed and surprised" by a money laundering probe that resulted in the seizure of $30 million from the Vatican bank and an investigation of the company's chairman.

Italian financial police made the seizure Tuesday as a precaution and prosecutors placed the chairman and another official of the Institute for Religious Works under investigation for alleged mistakes linked to violations of Italy's anti-laundering laws.

In a statement, the Vatican said it had been working for some time to make its finances more transparent to comply with anti-terrorism and anti-money laundering regulations. It expresses full trust in the head of the bank, Ettore Gotti Tedeschi, and the director-general.

Tedeschi, a devout Catholic who has taught financial ethics at the Catholic University of Milan, is a close adviser to Treasury Minister Giulio Tremonti.

He is currently also head of an Italian unit of the Spanish Banco Santander, according to its website, and serves on the board of several major Italian banks.

The IOR principally manages funds for the Vatican and religious institutions around the world, such as charity organisations and religious orders of priests and nuns.

It was involved in a worldwide scandal in 1982 when it was embroiled in the fraudulent bankruptcy of Banco Ambrosiano, then Italy's largest private bank.

The IOR held a small stake in Ambrosiano, whose president Roberto Calvi was found hanged under London's Blackfriars Bridge the same year.

Several investigations failed to determine whether Calvi, known as God's Banker, had been killed or committed suicide.

At the time the IOR was headed by American Archbishop Paul Marcinkus, who died in Arizona in 2006.

The Vatican denied any responsibility for the collapse of Banco Ambrosiano but made what it called a "goodwill payment" of $250 million to Ambrosiano creditors.