By Philip Pullella
ROME (Reuters) - A former Vatican prelate was acquitted on Monday of conspiring to smuggle millions of euros in cash into Italy from Switzerland for rich friends.
Monsignor Nunzio Scarano worked for 22 years as a senior accountant in APSA, a Vatican department that handles real estate and stock investments for the Holy See.
He was dismissed from his post after Italian magistrates charged him in June 2013 with plotting, along with an Italian secret service agent and a financial broker, to smuggle 20 million euros ($21.8 million) into Italy.
Prosecutors said a private plane had gone to Locarno in Switzerland in 2012 to pick up the cash and bring it into Italy without tax and customs controls. The plane returned without the cash because of last-minute complications at the Swiss bank where it was being held, officials said at the time.
The court in Rome found Scarano innocent of corruption and attempted money smuggling but guilty of a separate, lesser charge of making false accusations against one of the other defendants, for which he received a two-year suspended sentence. His two accused co-conspirators are being tried separately.
Scarano, who had close connections to the Vatican's scandal-plagued bank, is also still on trial in Salerno, his home town in southern Italy, on separate charges of using that bank to launder millions of euros.
At the time of his arrest in 2013, the bank, whose official name is the Institute for Works of Religion (IOR), froze more than 2 million euros that Scarano held in 10 accounts there. He has said his assets stemmed from donations.
When Scarano was arrested, he was living in a 17-room apartment in Salerno decorated with original artwork worth some 6 million euros, investigators said.
APSA is currently under investigation by Vatican magistrates who suspect that it has been used for money laundering, insider trading and market manipulation.
($1 = 0.9178 euros)
(Reporting by Philip Pullella; Editing by Kevin Liffey)