The trial of Paolo Gabriele, the personal butler of Pope Benedict XVI, ended on October 6 with an 18 months sentence on charges of leaking the pontiff’s secret memos. The revelations attributed to Gabriele ignited a huge scandal – widely referred to as the VatiLeaks in the media – after having been printed in Gianluigi Nuzzi’s bestseller «His Holiness: The Secret Papers of Benedict XVI».
The developments left watchers guessing whether the machinery behind the row was limited to Vatican’s perpetual power-wrestling or the incident deserves a deeper reading.
Allegations against the Vatican being a long-familiar phenomenon, the fieriest criticisms have been drawn by the extremely secretive Institute for Works of Religion commonly known as the Vatican Bank and recurrently facing accusations of money-laundering and other types of abuse…
In fact, Nuzzi’s 2009 book – Vaticano S.p.A. («Vatican Ltd») – was a milestone in the campaign supposed to shine light on the transactions performed under wraps by the Vatican. It was based on around 4,000 classified documents supplied to Nuzzi by a member of the panel ordered to subject the Institute for Works of Religion to a serious sanation, someone who died back in 2003.
The book lifted the lid on an intricate system of secret accounts maintained since the early 1990ies by the Vatican Bank – practically, in the form of a secret bank within the bank – which served to launder the funds traceable to the Italian mafia, political top brass, and business elite. The bank’s president Angelo Caloia lost his post over failing to buy the publisher’s consent to withhold «Vatican Ltd».
New president of the Vatican Bank Gotti Tedeschi, a financial ethic guru linked to Opus Dei, was charged with the mission of achieving a higher level of transparency in Vatican’s financial affairs so as to combine wider investment activities with the privileges the Institute enjoys thanks to the affiliation with the Holy See.
Tedeschi’s efforts, however, ultimately led to a new scandal. In September, 2010, the Italian authorities opened a money-laundering probe against the Vatican Bank over money transfers to J.P.Morgan Frankfurt and Italy’s Banca del Fucino, UniCredit, and Intesa SanPaolo, so that, unprecedentedly, Vatican’s cash box saw Euro 23m from its funds under arrest.
The circumstances around the investigation which the Italian police launched against Tedeschi and the bank’s No. 2 official – chief executive Paolo Cipriani invited the hypothesis that two camps – one seeking greater transparency, another interested in retaining the shadowy character of the Institute’s operations and patronizing the forces of corruption – were clashing over the Vatican Bank.
Key roles in the second camp were evidently played by Cipriani and Mark Simeon, the powerful head of the the Rai institutional relations of the state television. The latter has a reputation of a confidant of Vatican’s Cardinal Secretary of State Tarcisio Bertone.
Concerned over imminent repercussions, the Vatican was forced to issue a note demanding that the Italian authorities respect the internationally recognized privileges of the Holy See.1
A decision was also sealed to get the Institute for Works of Religion certified as an internationally trusted organization complying with the bulk of legislation against money-laundering and with global transparency standards, which takes having the Vatican Bank put on the FATF (Financial Action Task Force on Money Laundering) white list.
FATF, a body established by G7 to crack down on illicit financial activities and to monitor the corresponding transactions, regularly updates three lists of countries depending on their eagerness to embrace financial transparency rules.
The white list includes the countries fully abiding by FATF recommendations, the grey one – those subscribing to the norms without acting accordingly, and the black one – the countries which are not signatories to the agreements on tax data exchange.
The Pope inked a decree committing the Vatican to the fight against money laundering, counterfeiting and the financing of terrorism on December 30, 2011, along with an array of pertinent regulations promising 12 years in jail for money-laundering and 15 – for financial terrorism.
An independent Vatican watchdog – the Financial Information Authority – was also set up by the decree to monitor the Vatican’s commerce and to connect to peer international agencies.
A message was sent to the Council of Europe Committee of Experts on the Evaluation of Anti-Money Laundering Measures and the Financing of Terrorism (MONEYVAL) urging it to grant the Institute for Works of Religion the status of an organization complying with the international norms.
In response, MONEYVAL took to screening the Vatican Bank for potential mischief and pledged to have the verdict ready by July, 2012. The money seized by the police from the bank was returned as the procedure took off, and the inquiry targeting Tedeschi was put on hold.
It was this pivotal moment when the Italian media floated the loud VatiLeaks campaign. The Vatican’s confidential or classified documents started to occasionally surface in Italian newspapers already in January, 2012, and in February the process reached the proportions of an avalanche.
In March, the Pope had to order the cardinals and Corpo della Gendarmeria to investigate the leaks.
Roughly at the same time, the Milano branch of JP Morgan notified the Vatican of closing its account due to the lack of necessary information and the US Department of State, for the first time ever, put the Vatican on the list of money-laundering centres, albeit not rating it as a a high-risk country (2).
Finally, Nuzzi’s sensational «His Holiness: The Secret Papers of Benedict XVI» containing the Pope’s correspondence with his prime aides – cardinal Tarcisio Bertone and personal secretary Georg Gänswein – appeared on bookstore shelves in May, 2012.
The materials on the Joseph Ratzinger (Benedict XVI) Vatican Foundation the book featured were not meant to land in the Vatican’s archives and must have been stolen from the desks of the pontiff or his secretary.
Importantly, some of the stuff exposed corruption, nepotism, and incompetence within the Vatican Bank. The German-language edition which was dished out in no time offered an additional chapter showing the far from cloudless relations between the Pope and German Roman Catholics and detailing the Vatican politics that used to materialize exclusively behind closed doors.
In the author’s portrayal, the intrigue was centered around a conflict between the extremely liberal German part of the church and the ecclesiastic right at the upper levels of the Holy See, the two realms being virtually impossible to reconcile.
The book written by Nuzzi, with the revelations found therein, offered a negative depiction of the Pope, of his secretary, and especially of cardinal Bertone tasked with fighting corruption. Thus, it clearly discredited the papal authority and, systemically, the whole Vatican administration. A strong reaction to all of the above had to follow.
Butler Gabriele, a man the Pope used to trust absolutely, was taken into custody on May, 23. He admitted to snatching the papers but explained that he loved the Pope and that his motivation was to unmask those who impeded the anti-corruption initiatives.
The Gabriele trial took suspiciously little time – only one week – and all of the man’s attempts to identify his contacts were being promptly suppressed in the course of the hearings.
The punishment handed out to Gabriele was a jail term of three years, immediately reduced to 18 months due to various regards in the favor of the indicted. While Gabriele never quite said he was guilty, it seemed that all parties in court were satisfied with the outcome.
The main computer expert of the Holy See, a former hacker called «engineer of Pope», disappeared in Vatican while Gabriele was in custody.
The individual, still unidentified, is believed to have had the entry authorizations valid across the Vatican computer network which is reportedly analogous to that of the CIA and might have had access to quantities of sensitive files including those that caused the scandal to erupt when published in the media.
The computer engineer could tap into the network mailboxes, held the Vatican Bank encryption keys, and probably knew the top secret – the names of the so-called «crows», a narrow group of insiders orchestrating the leaks (3).
Tedeschi was the next victim to fall – a day after the arrest of the Pope’s butler, the Vatican Bank board unanimously discharged the former president from the post following a request from the Vatican’s Cardinal Secretary of State Tarcisio Bertone.
The widespread view is that the reason behind the ouster was that Tedeschi could tell a lot about the accounts owned by politicians, significant go-betweens, high-ranking officials, and mafia patrons.
The two cases of quick but mild punishment metered out to fairly visible Vatican figures are indicative of the tendency to shield more serious ones – likely to be found in the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic church – from unwanted publicity over the matter.
The conclusion upheld by the court was that the butler who stole thousands of papers acted solo, and, moreover, while only a fraction of the swag was relayed to the media, the question about what happened to the rest was not even asked.
The crime committed by Gabriele was written off as ordinary theft instead of being interpreted as a state security breach punishable by 30 years in prison. Overall, it remained unclear what forces might have masterminded and triggered the VatiLeaks scandal.
The truth is that the response to the VatiLeaks case reflected an attempt to disguise both the crumbling of the Vatican’s traditional system of administration and the pressure intended to impose the global financial clans’ control over the Holy See.
The infighting raging these days within the Roman Curia highlights a conflict between the parties espousing completely different concepts of the future for the Vatican which will either remain sovereign or be integrated into the global governance to project a kind of a religious sanction onto the New World Order.
The players now pushing for transparency in the Vatican – advancing it being the stated goal of the campaign around the book by Gianluigi Nuzzi – actually represent the supranational financial mafia which, under the pretext of banishing corruption from individual countries, hopes to erase nation-statehood as such worldwide.
This type of pressure is currently being exerted on Israel and the Vatican. Vatican commentator Vittorio Messori spelled out the dilemma as follows: «The Roman Curia has always been a viper’s nest. However, in the past at least, it was the most efficient state organisation in the world. It ran an empire the sun never set on and it had an unparalleled diplomatic corps. What is left of that today?» (4).
Having sacrificed a couple of pawns – a butler and a «financial ethic» champion – the party demanding transparency only reinforced its positions. The offenders nominally punished, it has retained unaffected the main assets: the potentially explosive stolen data and the ties with the global financial institutions which are scheming to gain control over the Vatican’s finances.
MONEYVAl released a report on the Vatican’s financial activities on July 18, 2012. It said the Vatican did well on just 9 of the 16 criteria, did not measure up to the international standards, and should be kept off the white list (5). The Financial Information Authority was slammed hardest in the report.
The scrutiny led the Vatican to initiate a new round of the transparency race. This time, the biggest role is given to Rene Brulhart, a 40-year-old Swiss international lawyer whose impressive record of war on money laundering features a total of 8 years spent to clean up the Liechtenstein tax heaven.
As the principality’s Financial Intelligence Unit chief, Brulhart did a huge job to rid Liechtenstein of the spotty financial reputation without causing any damage to its privileged status. Brulhart’s partner in the new pursuit is Gregory Burke, a Fox New journalist and an Opus Dei senior member recently appointed as a communications adviser to the Vatican’s secretariat.
Olga CHETVERIKOVA, Strategic Culture Foundation