The Vatican City State Court has sentenced the former president of the Institute of Religious Works (IOR) to 8 years and 11 months in prison for money laundering and aggravated embezzlement. This is the very first time a prison sentence for a financial offense has been handed down in the world’s smallest state.
“I say with some pride that the IOR is currently more transparent than any other financial institution.” These remarks by Angelo Caloia dating back to 2004, which Avvenire journalist Giancarlo Galli mentioned in his book White Finance, are enough to make one smile: the one who ran the Vatican’s “bank,” was at the same time laundering dirty money, and embezzling funds for his own account.
The case began to grow in 2009, when Vaticanist Gianluigi Nuzzi, a connoisseur of the oltretevere scandal, published Vatican SpA, a book in which various opaque IOR operations were revealed with supporting evidence: the same year, Angelo Caloia was dismissed by Pope Benedict XVI, who appointed Ettore Gotti Tedeschi in his place, who in turn was replaced in 2013 by Ernst von Freyberg, a compatriot and trusted man of the German pontiff.
It is from this date that an internal investigation and audit were conducted. The following year, on December 6, 2014, Reuters revealed that the Vatican City State Prosecutor, the equivalent of an Attorney General, had seized sixteen million euros from bank accounts of Angelo Caloia, IOR Director General Lelio Scaletti, who died in the meantime on October 15, 2015, and his lawyer, Gabriele Liuzzo, now 97 years old.
The trial opened at the Vatican in May 2018, and pointed to the irregular sales of about twenty IOR properties, made between 2001 and 2008: properties sold, via offshore companies, fifty-seven million euros below their market value. This sum ended up in the voluminous pockets of the accused.
The verdict was read on January 21 by the president of the court, Giuseppe Pignatone: the former attorney general of Rome, who now serves as a magistrate in the Vatican, and who insisted on a “trial for history,” since for the first time, prison sentences were handed down for financial offenses—not to mention the fifty-seven million euros that will have to be returned.
None of the still-living defendants were present at the last trial hearing.
Other Convictions for Financial Offenses Are Expected
Giuseppe Pignatone is not be out of work anytime soon: the court he presides over announced last January 18 that he will soon try Cecilia Marogna. This young Italian consultant had been entrusted, by the former deputy secretary of state, Angelo Becciu, with half a million euros in a Slovenian account, for so-called diplomatic missions: a coquettish sum, half of which would be rerouted to buy luxury goods.
The former number two of the Secretary of State was suddenly fired on September 24, 2020 by Pope Francis, his name having been associated with, among others, the controversial purchase of a building in the heart of an upscale area of London.
It should be noted that the Vatican does not have a prison system. Those convicted of crimes committed in the smallest state in the world serve their sentences in Italian prisons, the costs of which are covered by the Holy See.