27 October 2010
Holocaust survivors from the former Yugoslavia have accused the Vatican Bank of helping Nazi allies launder their stolen valuables and asked the European Commission to investigate their claims, the news agency ‘Bloomberg’ reports. “We are requesting the commission open an inquiry into allegations of money laundering of Holocaust victim assets by financial organs associated with, or which are agencies of, the Vatican City State,” Jonathan Levy, a Washington-based attorney for the survivors and their heirs, wrote in a letter dated to the EU commissioner for economic and monetary affairs, Olli Rehn, seen by ‘Bloomberg’ reporters.
The request follows a decade-long lawsuit in US courts on behalf of Holocaust survivors and their heirs from the former Yugoslavia and Ukraine in which plaintiffs alleged that the Vatican Bank, officially known as the Institute for Works of Religion (IOR), had laundered assets stolen from Jews, Gypsies and Serbs killed or captured by Nazi-backed regime of wartime Croatia. The Vatican has repeatedly denied the charges. A spokesperson for Rehn was quoted by ‘Bloomberg’ as confirming that the Commission had received Levy’s letter and contacted Vatican authorities about it. Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi declined to comment on the matter.
A lawsuit for nearly US$ 2 billion in restitution was dismissed in December 2009 by an appeals court in San Francisco on grounds that the Vatican Bank enjoyed immunity under the US Foreign Service Immunities Act, which may prevent foreign governments from facing lawsuits in the United States. However, Levy argues that the European Commission should have the authority to probe the IOR. Under the agreement between the Vatican and the EU, the former pledged to implement EU laws against money laundering, counterfeiting and fraud, in return for using the euro as legal tender with the Vatican City State.
According to ‘Bloomberg’, Rome prosecutors have also sought to show that the IOR is covered under European law. Last month, they seized € 23 million (US$ 32 million) from an Italian account held by the IOR as they opened a probe into alleged violations of money-laundering laws by the Vatican Bank.
Located inside Vatican City, the IOR is run by a professional CEO who reports directly to a committee of cardinals, and ultimately to the Pope. The bank was set up in 1942 by Pope Pius XII with the purpose of providing "for the safekeeping and administration of movable and immovable property transferred or entrusted to it by physical or juridical persons and intended for works of religion or charity." It is not a department of the Roman Curia and falls outside the central administrative structure of the Roman Catholic Church.
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