ROME – Wiretaps collected by Italy’s financial police, which recently led to the arrest of the son of a former finance minister and three other individuals on corruption charges, appear to reveal a scheme to cultivate a relationship with the pope’s top aide in order to win contracts to restore ecclesiastical properties outside Rome.
However, the investigation so far has not uncovered any evidence that the papal aide was complicit in, or even aware of, those efforts.
One such wiretap from early 2023 captures one of the alleged conspirators describing efforts to curry the favor of Italian Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican’s Secretary of State, in order to obtain support for their bids to work on church jobs, saying, “We make 3,000 Euro off a small construction site, we can make at least that much from a parish,” and at another exclaiming, “Viva priests!”
At another stage, another alleged conspirator is heard saying that a government official who had met with Parolin the day before had left one of their business cards with him, implying support for their efforts, while also complaining that ten percent of whatever they might make would have to be paid to the Secretariat of State’s technical office.
According to investigators, in addition to payments from church institutions the group also hoped to exploit Italy’s “Superbonus” system to tax incentives for energy-efficient renovation projects to augment their earnings by as much as 90 percent. As an initial stage, investigators say, the group had identified a former convent now used as a hotel and a church-sponsored clinic, both in need of renovation, as targets.
The highest-profile participant in the alleged corruption scheme is Gabriele Visco, 52, a former senior executive of Invitalia, a government-sponsored agency that promotes economic development, including investment in both existing Italian businesses and new start-ups. Visco is the son of Vincenzo Visco, a former Minister of Finance under center-left Italian governments in the 1990s and 2000s.
According to investigators, Visco, along with two businessmen and a lawyer, conspired to steer a $4.3 million public works contract for the construction of a dam to a company owned by one of the entrepreneurs, and also to have a person close to that entrepreneur employed by a public agency. As part of the probe, police seized roughly $250,000 in assets belonging to the group.
According to a detailed report filed by the financial police, the group’s effort to cultivate a relationship with Parolin never materialized, and in fact there’s no evidence that any of the four arrested individuals ever even met him.
The police report also indicates the group had hoped to use Italian Father Marco Belladelli, chaplain to a union of Italian Catholic pharmacists and director of a pontifical commission overseeing the Vatican’s own health system, as a go-between with Parolin, but there’s also no evidence that aim was ever realized.
According to media reports, investigators suspect that Visco and his alleged co-conspirators may have boasted of Vatican contacts they didn’t actually have, in an effort to persuade church mangers to favor their bids for various contracts.
In fact, Visco appeared to blame the scheme to win Vatican support for the fact that he was eventually fired from his position at Invitalia in April 2023.
During another wiretap, at one point Visco can be heard telling a friend that he suspected his dismissal may have been the result of “improvident initiatives with senior exponents of the Holy See.”