ROME—Under Pope Francis, the Vatican has been pursuing financial reform, with the goal, as one senior prelate put it, of making money management “boringly successful.” The recent house arrest of a Roman construction magnate is being touted as proof that the new systems adopted under Francis are working.
Angelo Proietti, the owner and manager of an Italian construction company called “Edil Ars,” was placed under house arrest last Thursday on aggravated fraudulent bankruptcy charges, with the police seizing several accounts he held in the Institute for the Works of Religion (IOR), commonly referred as the “Vatican bank.”
Proietti was detained for allegedly siphoning off 8 million Euro from his building and art renovation contractor company. In addition, he’s accused of looting more of the company’s assets after it merged with another firm called Emiroma Srl.
Both companies declared bankruptcy in 2014.
On Wednesday the Vatican released a statement saying that the Holy See had initiated the investigation back in 2013, “taking action on the basis of Suspicious Transaction Reports relating to Mr. Proietti, seizing all the relevant financial resources.”
Throughout the investigation, the statement said, the Vatican has exchanged information with the corresponding Italian authorities, as is required by both the law and the “Memoranda of Understanding” the two countries have.
That memoranda, and similar others the Vatican has entered into with countries such as the United States, Belgium, Spain, Slovenia, and the Netherlands, is designed to foster the exchange of financial information regarding suspicious activities.
The agreements allow the Vatican’s financial watchdog agency, the Financial Information Authority led by Swiss money-laundering expert René Brülhart, to approach financial regulatory authorities in those countries to verify a transaction between the IOR and an American bank.
Beyond flagging Proietti’s accounts for Italian magistrates, the Vatican also is currently investigating the businessman for potential offences against the Holy See.
Beyond depositing some of his assets in the IOR, his construction company performed work for several Vatican and Italian government bodies and agencies, from the Administration of the Patrimony of the Apostolic See (APSA), which manages the Church’s real estate assets, to Italy’s culture and transport ministries.
Earlier in the month the IOR declared profits in 2015 of $18.3 million, a sharp drop-off of 77 percent from the previous year. According to bank officials, the decline was mostly due to the closing of over 5,000 accounts as part of the financial clean-up.
At the end of 2015 assets at the bank stood at $6.59 million, down slightly from $6.7 billion the year before.
According to Italian media, Proietti had three accounts in the IOR, totaling close to $1.67 million. Italy’s Guardia di Finanza, the body which investigates financial crimes, seized those assets.
Previous scandals surrounding the Vatican bank generally had been related to money laundering. This is believed to be the first time one or more accounts of an Italian citizen have been frozen because the money is considered by Italian law enforcers as “illegally acquired.”
This is not the first time Proietti has been linked to alleged financial wrong-doing involving entities of the Vatican.
In 2013, when Monsignor Nunzio Scarano, a former accountant at APSA, was arrested in a cash-smuggling scheme, he charged high-ranking officials in APSA of directing contracts to Proietti and then splitting the income, in what he claimed amounted to a system of kickbacks.
At the time, Proietti dismissed the charges as “the fantasy of a simple accountant.”