Rome - A senior Catholic cleric accused of plotting to smuggle millions of euros into Italy on a private jet has been arrested as part of a sweeping probe of the scandal-plagued Vatican bank, prosecutors say.
Nunzio Scarano, known as "monsignor" in recognition of his seniority at the Holy See, is accused of fraud and corruption for plotting to illegally carry about $26m in cash into Italy from Switzerland.
The 61-year-old priest was arrested on Friday along with a former member of the secret service and a financial broker after an investigation into the Institute for Works of Religion - as the Vatican bank is known -- raised suspicions he was involved in money laundering.
Rome prosecutor Nello Rossi said the money belonged to Salerno brothers, Paolo, Cesare, and Maurizio D'Amico, who own a Rome-based fleet of oil tankers and was the "fruit of tax evasion".
Broker Giovanni Carenzio, who is also under investigation in the Canary Islands for fraud according to Italian media reports, was safeguarding the money for the brothers and was looking for a way to smuggle it into Italy.
Former agent Giovanni Maria Zito was tasked with bringing the money in on a private jet, but the deal fell through when the three men argued, Rossi said.
While the jet made it to Locarno in northern Italy and waited at the airport for four days with €20m on board, the plan to collect the money and drive it to Scarano's house in Rome under armed guard was aborted.The biggest scandal involving the Vatican was in 1982 over the bankruptcy of Banco Ambrosia, in which the Vatican was the main shareholder and which had been accused of laundering money for the Sicilian mafia.
The bank was back in the headlines in 2012, when its head Ettore Gotti Tedeschi was sacked by the board after a major falling out with the Holy See's Secretary of State Tarcisio Bertone.
In a bid to tighten control of its activities, Pope Francis announced a sweeping study of the bank on Wednesday before a possible clear-out of top management at the Holy See.
In his first real step towards reform, the pontiff is to take a hands-on approach, ensuring that everything a special five-member commission uncovers will be reported directly to him.
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