Court upholds Vatican bank account seizure

AP News
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Posted: Oct 20, 2010 1:35 PM
Court upholds Vatican bank account seizure

A Rome court on Wednesday upheld the seizure of euro23 million ($33 million) from a Vatican bank account, prompting the Vatican to react in "astonishment."

Last month, Italian authorities seized the money from a Vatican bank account and said they had begun investigating top officials at the bank in connection with a money-laundering probe.

The officials have denied the allegations. The Vatican has insisted the bank was trying to comply with international rules to fight money laundering and terrorist financing.

The Vatican had sought to get the funds released, but Wednesday a court in Rome rejected the request and upheld the seizure.

Vatican spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi said in a statement that the Holy See had "learned of the ruling with astonishment."

Lombardi said the Vatican believes the problem originated from confusion over how the rules are interpreted. Vatican bank officials maintain they can clarify the matter soon, he said.

The investigation is not the first trouble for the bank _ formally known as the Institute for Works of Religion. In the 1980s, it was involved in a major scandal that resulted in a banker, dubbed "God's Banker" because of his close ties to the Vatican, being found hanging from Blackfriars Bridge in London.

In the current investigation, financial police seized the money Sept. 21 from a Vatican bank account at the Rome branch of Credito Artigiano Spa, after the bank informed the Bank of Italy about possible violations of anti-money laundering norms. The bulk of the money, euro20 million ($26 million), was destined for JP Morgan in Frankfurt, with the remainder going to Banca del Fucino.

The Vatican bank reportedly neglected to inform financial authorities of where the money had come from.

Bank chairman Ettore Gotti Tedeschi said after being questioned by prosecutors last month that the allegations resulted from a "misunderstanding" that he hoped would be cleared up.