The Catholic priest at the heart of a Vatican money scandal has claimed that he did not act for personal gain when he attempted to bring $28.1 million into Italy from Switzerland illicitly.
Monsignor Nunzio Scarano, 61, will be questioned by investigators on Monday in the 17th-century Rome prison in which he is being held, as more details emerge of the scheme.
Nicknamed by fellow priests “Monsignor 500” for his habit of flashing a wallet full of 500 euro ($710) notes, he has insisted that he committed no crime when he allegedly tried to import the cash on board a private jet.
“Monsignor Scarano will answer all questions and will explain what his role was, showing that he had no personal interest in the matter,” Silverio Sica, his lawyer, said.
“There was no profit in it for him and he acted purely in a spirit of friendship.”
That “friendship” was with the heirs to a large Neapolitan shipping company, to whom the 20 million euro allegedly belonged.
Monsignor Scarano, who worked in a bank before joining the priesthood in the 1980s, allegedly funnelled hundreds of thousands of euros through accounts he held with the Vatican bank, known officially as the Institute for the Works of Religion.
He worked as a senior accountant in a Vatican department that manages the Holy See’s property and other assets, but was suspended a month ago when the corruption allegations came to light.
His close contacts with the Vatican bank “enabled him to act as a very private and illicit branch” of the bank, according to Nello Rossi, one of the prosecutors in the case, amid questions about how much his superiors knew about his activities.
One of the accounts he held with the Vatican bank was for his personal use while the other was designated for “fondo anziani” – funds for old people.
Monsignor Scarano allegedly conspired with Giovanni Maria Zito, an agent with one of Italy’s secret services who is now being held in a military prison, and Giovanni Carenzio, a financial broker from Pompeii, to smuggle the money from a UBS bank account in Lugano, Switzerland, into Italy. The plot failed to come to fruition.