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Ex-Vatican accountant in handcuffs

| Friday, June 28, 2013, 9:45 p.m.
An undated photo of Monsignor Nunzio Scarano in Salerno, Italy. A Vatican official already under investigation in a purported money-laundering plot involving the Vatican bank was arrested Friday, June 28, 2013, in a separate operation: Prosecutors allege he tried to bring 20 million euros ($26 million) in cash into Italy from Switzerland aboard an Italian government plane, his lawyer said. Monsignor Nunzio Scarano, a recently suspended accountant in one of the Vatican's main financial departments, is accused of fraud, corruption and slander stemming from the plot, which never got off the ground, attorney Silverio Sica told The Associated Press. He said Scarano was a middleman in the operation: Friends had asked him to intervene with a broker, Giovanni Carenzio, to return 20 million euros they had given him to invest. Sica said Scarano persuaded Carenzio to return the money, and an Italian secret service agent, Giovanni Maria Zito, went to Switzerland to bring the cash back aboard an Italian government aircraft. Such a move would presumably prevent any reporting of the money coming into Italy. The operation failed because Carenzio reneged on the deal, Sica said. (AP Photo/Francesco Pecoraro)

VATICAN CITY — The plot involved an armed police escort, a wealthy shipping family and a plan to secretly transport 20 million euros, or $26 million, from a Swiss bank account into Italy aboard a private jet. At the heart of the story of greed: a silver-haired Vatican monsignor.

The latest corruption scandal to hit the Holy See unraveled in public on Friday as Monsignor Nunzio Scarano, a Vatican accountant, was arrested in the customs-dodging Swiss bank case. He is also under investigation in a separate case of alleged money-laundering involving his Vatican bank account.

Pope Francis this week established a commission of inquiry into the Vatican bank to get to the bottom of the problems that have plagued it for decades and contributed to its reputation as an offshore tax haven.

Francis has made it clear that he has no tolerance for corruption or for Vatican officials who use their jobs for personal ambition or gain, and the Vatican said it was prepared to fully cooperate with Italian investigators, who described a remarkably detailed scheme allegedly spearheaded by Scarano to benefit some very wealthy friends. Prosecutor Nello Rossi identified them as the d'Amicos, one of Italy's most important shipping families from Scarano's hometown of Salerno in southern Italy.

Rossi declined to say if any of the d'Amicos were under investigation, but said developments were expected within days.

Three people were arrested on Friday: Scarano, a onetime banker who was recently suspended from his job in the Vatican's main finance office, Italian financier Giovanni Carenzio and Giovanni Zito, who until recently was a member of the Italian military police's agency for security and information.

According to wiretapped conversations, the three allegedly plotted to smuggle in some 20 million euros in cash that Carenzio held in a Swiss bank account without declaring it to authorities at the airport.

Scarano's lawyer described him as something of a middleman: The 20 million euros belonged to the d'Amicos, who had given the money to Carenzio to invest but wanted it back. Scarano was tasked with persuading Carenzio to hand it over.

Rossi said the d'Amico money was presumably being held in Switzerland to avoid paying Italian taxes.

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