Rome court acquits ex-Vatican accountant of corruption

ROME (AP) — A court in Rome Monday acquitted an Italian monsignor, who was fired from his job as a Vatican accountant, of corruption, a defense lawyer for the priest said.

According to prosecutors, Monsignor Nunzio Scarano was involved in a plot to use a private plane to try to smuggle 20 million euros (about $22 million) from Switzerland into Italy in a tax-evasion scheme. They suspected the money had been deposited in Switzerland to avoid Italian taxes.

A lawyer for Scarano, Silverio Sica, confirmed Italian news reports that the court acquitted his client of corruption but convicted him on a slander charge and gave him a suspended two-year sentence. The monsignor had denied any wrongdoing.

Prosecutors alleged that a former intelligence agent and a financial broker were part of the plot along with Scarano. The ex-agent, who allegedly had rented a plane to fly to Switzerland to get the money, never was able to carry out the mission, prosecutors contended. During the trial, the cases involving the ex-agent and the broker were separated from Scarano’s case.

The slander charge stems from prosecutors’ accusations that the monsignor falsely accused the former agent of stealing a 200,000-euro ($220,000) check. Prosecutors contended that in reality Scarano had given the check to the ex-agent as part of the scheme.

Separately, Scarano is on trial in Salerno, Italy, accused of using his Vatican bank accounts to launder money. Italian prosecutors said the once highly secretive Vatican bank amply cooperated with them in that case. Pope Francis has been forging ahead with efforts to ensure the Vatican’s bank and other financial offices use internationally recognized good practices.

Scarano was arrested by Italian police in the money-laundering probe two years ago, put under house arrest but later set free on his own recognizance.

At the time, Italy’s financial police said the monsignor was suspected of transferring millions of euros in fictitious charity donations from offshore companies through his accounts at the Vatican’s bank. Lawyer Sica said then that Scarano had taken donations from people he thought were acting in good faith to fund a home for the terminally ill. But the lawyer conceded Scarano used the money to pay off a mortgage.

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