By Philip Pullella
VATICAN CITY | Fri Mar 16, 2012 6:06pm GMT
(Reuters) - The Vatican has opened an extremely rare criminal investigation into embarrassing leaks of top-level sensitive documents alleging corruption and mismanagement in several of its departments.
The investigation, announced in the Vatican newspaper on Friday, will be carried out by an internal tribunal in a bid to find out who leaked the material.
A separate, administrative investigation will be conducted by the Secretariat of State, which manages Vatican bureaucracy. Pope Benedict had also ordered a "high-level commission" to shed light on the affair, the newspaper said.
The scandal, which has come to be known as "Vatileaks," involves the leaking of a string of sensitive documents to Italian media in January and February, including personal letters to the pope.
The two investigations and the establishment of the papal commission were announced in an interview with Archbishop Angelo Becciu, the deputy secretary of state.
Becciu denounced the leakers as cowardly and disloyal people who took advantage of their privileged position to leak documents "whose privacy they had an obligation to respect".
The archbishop said the pope was very "hurt" by the leaks.
Becciu also rejected media portrayals of the Curia, the Vatican's central administration, as being populated by ambitious clerics more interested in advancing their careers than serving the Church.
Criminal investigations are very rare in the Vatican.
One of the most sensational was opened after Cedric Tornay, a 23-year-old Swiss Guard who had been turned down for a promotion, killed his commander and the commander's wife before committing suicide.
The Vatican investigator determined that Tornay had acted in a "fit of madness".
ARCHBISHOP WHSTLE BLOWER
The leaked documents included letters by an archbishop who was transferred to Washington after he blew the whistle on what he saw as a web of corruption and cronyism, a poison pen memo which put a number of cardinals in a bad light and documents alleging internal conflicts about the Vatican Bank.
The leaks began in January when an Italian television investigation broadcast private letters to Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone and the pope from Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, the former deputy governor of the Vatican City and currently the Holy See's ambassador in Washington.
The letters showed that Vigano was transferred after he exposed what he argued was a web of corruption, nepotism and cronyism linked to the awarding of contracts to Italian contractors at inflated prices.
As deputy governor of the Vatican City for two years from 2009 to 2011, Vigano was the number two official in a department responsible for maintaining the tiny city-state's gardens, buildings, streets, museums and other infrastructure, which are managed separately from the Italian capital which surrounds it.
In one letter, Vigano wrote of a smear campaign against him by other Vatican officials who were upset that he had taken drastic steps to clean up the purchasing procedures. He begged to stay in the job to finish what he had started.
Bertone responded by removing Vigano from his position three years before the end of his tenure and sending him to the United States, despite his strong resistance.
Other leaks centre on the Vatican bank, which is trying to put previous scandals behind it.
They included the collapse 30 years ago of Italy's private Banco Ambrosiano in a tangle of lurid allegations about money-laundering, freemasons, the mafia and the mysterious 1982 death of its chairman Roberto Calvi - who was dubbed "God's banker".
The Vatican bank, formally known as the Institute for Works of Religion (IOR), is aiming to comply fully with EU standards on financial transparency in order to make Europe's "white list" by June.
Vatican Makes Money Laundering List
By Philip Pullella
Of U.S. State Department
VATICAN CITY, March 8 (Reuters) - The Vatican has for the first time appeared on the U.S. State Department's list of money-laundering centres but the tiny city-state is not rated as a high-risk country.
The 2012 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report was made public on Wednesday and Washington's list of 190 countries classifies them in three categories: of primary concern, of concern and monitored.
The Vatican is in the second category, grouped with 67 other nations including Poland, Egypt, Ireland, Hungary and Chile.
It was added to the list because it was considered vulnerable to money-laundering and had recently established programmes to prevent it, a State Department official said.
"To be considered a jurisdiction of concern merely indicates that there is a vulnerability to a financial system by money launderers. With the large volumes of international currency that goes through the Holy See, it is a system that makes it vulnerable as a potential money-laundering center," Susan Pittman of the State Department's Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement, told Reuters.
Last year, the Vatican adapted internal laws to comply with international standards on financial crime.
The Vatican is seeking inclusion on the European Commission's so-called "white list" of states who comply with international standards against tax fraud and money-laundering. A decision on its inclusion is expected in June.
"Our aim is to make the 'white list' and we are happy that we have been put in the State Department's less vulnerable category," a Vatican official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The category of most vulnerable centres includes all members of the Group of Eight countries, including the United States, Germany, Italy and Russia, because the size of their economies and banking systems can facilitate money-laundering. It also includes small centres such as Britain's Channel Islands.
The State Department's methodology is different from that of the Financial Action Task Force's International Cooperation Review Group (ICRG), which concentrates on a nation's compliance with international law and money-laundering regulations.
VATICAN BANK HAS SCANDALOUS PAST
The Vatican Bank, founded in 1942 by Pope Pius XII, has been in the spotlight since September 2010 when Italian investigators froze 23 million euros ($33 million) in funds in Italian banks after opening an investigation into possible money-laundering.
The bank said it did nothing wrong and was just transferring funds between its own accounts. The money was released in June 2011 but the investigation is continuing.
The Vatican's new financial transparency laws set up internal regulations to make sure its bank and all other departments adhere to international regulations and standards, and cooperate with foreign authorities.
Two months ago, Italian newspapers published leaked internal letters which appeared to show a conflict among top Vatican officials about just how transparent the bank should be about dealings that took place before it enacted its new laws.
The Vatican Bank was formally known as the Institute for Works of Religion (IOR) and was entangled in the collapse 30 years ago of Banco Ambrosiano, with its lurid allegations about money-laundering, freemasons, mafiosi and the mysterious death of Ambrosiano chairman Roberto Calvi - "God's banker". (Reporting by Philip Pullella; Editing by Robert Woodward)