* Monsignor was senior accountant in key Vatican department
* He had ready access to Vatican bank and several accounts
* Police say "false donations" came from offshore companies
(Adds more details from police, accounts frozen, real estate
By Philip Pullella
VATICAN CITY, Jan 21 A former Vatican prelate on
trial for an alleged plot to smuggle 20 million euros into Italy
was further charged on Tuesday with laundering millions through
the Vatican bank, police said.
Monsignor Nunzio Scarano and two other people served with
arrest warrants were suspected of money laundering and making
false statements, police said. The others were Father Luigi
Noli, a friend of Scarano suspended from his Vatican job last
year, and a notary. Fifty-two others were being investigated.
While the charges had been expected, they were another blow
to the image of the Vatican, where Pope Francis has vowed to
make Church finances meet global standards of transparency. He
has not ruled out closing the bank if it cannot be reformed.
Scarano, 61, is under house arrest in his native Salerno,
near Naples, and on trial in Rome for conspiring to smuggle some
20 million euros from Switzerland with a financier and a former
secret services officer for rich shipbuilder friends in Salerno.
The new charge, which came after a separate, year-long
investigation, concerns suspected money laundering through his
accounts at the Vatican bank, officially known as the Institute
for Works of Religion (IOR). A police statement said millions of
euros in "false donations" from offshore companies moved through
Scarano's accounts there.
Police did not say exactly how much laundered money had
moved through the IOR but said Scarano had about 5 million euros
at his disposal in accounts at the Vatican and in Italian banks.
As part of their investigation, police froze two accounts in
an Italian bank just outside the Vatican, one for a real estate
company he controlled. They also seized two apartments, for a
total of about 6.5 million euros in financial and real estate
Last July, the Vatican bank froze more than 2 million euros
in about 10 accounts Scarano kept there.
Elena Guarino, the Salerno magistrate who led the
investigation, told reporters the Vatican was fully cooperative
and gave her much information on Scarano's bank movements.
VETERAN VATICAN FINANCIER
Scarano worked for 22 years at the Vatican's Administration
of the Patrimony of the Apostolic See (APSA), which manages the
city-state's real estate holdings and financial and stock
portfolios and also acts as a purchasing and human resources
As a senior accountant at APSA, Scarano had ready access to
the Vatican bank, which has been mired in a number of murky
scandals over the decades.
APSA is currently being investigated by the same outside
accounting firm that is also helping the Vatican bank close
accounts that could potentially be used for money laundering.
In Salerno, Scarano lived in a luxury, 17-room apartment
decorated with original artwork worth some 6 million euros ($8.1
million), investigators told Reuters after his arrest last June.
He had been under investigation for months over the
suspicious movement of some 590,000 euros in 2012 in one cash
transaction from the Vatican bank, investigators said last year.
Well-connected in local high society circles, Scarano
divided the cash, most of it in 500 euro notes, among more than
50 friends, investigators said.
Each friend gave him a cashier's check drawn on Italian
banks. He then took all the checks to a bank in Salerno and paid
off a mortgage on his apartment, which investigators said last
year he had purchased for about 1.7 million euros.
Scarano denied the money laundering accusations when they
were first made last year. He told investigators the money had
come from "donations". Police, however, said on Tuesday that
much of it came from offshore companies controlled by his
($1 = 0.7373 euros)
(Reporting by Philip Pullella; Editing by Tom Heneghan)