VATICAN CITY – The Vatican chastised Italian authorities on Friday for seizing documents intended for the pope during a raid on the home of the recently ousted Vatican bank chief, reminding them that the Holy See is a sovereign state whose officials and documents enjoy immunity protections.
In a statement, the Vatican said it expected that Italian judicial authorities would recognize and respect its internationally recognized sovereign status in any proceedings concerning Ettore Gotti Tedeschi.
Italian paramilitary police raided Gotti Tedeschi's Piacenza home on Tuesday as part of a corruption investigation into Italy's state-controlled aerospace giant Finmeccanica. He is not under investigation, and at the time of the raid prosecutors said the search had nothing to do with Gotti Tedeschi's recently terminated role as president of the Vatican bank.
But during the raid, police seized documentation Gotti Tedeschi had prepared for the pope concerning his controversial May 24 ouster as president of the Vatican bank, known as the Institute for Religious Works.
In an unprecedentedly harsh move, the bank's board fired Gotti Tedeschi in a no-confidence vote, accusing him of leaking documents, failing to do his job and impeding the Vatican's efforts to be more transparent in its financial dealings.
Gotti Tedeschi's lawyer said Thursday the documentation that was seized contained his client's responses to the board's accusations.
The seizure and subsequent questioning by prosecutors about Gotti Tedeschi's role at the bank posed potentially thorny legal issues, since Gotti Tedeschi enjoys some immunity as a former official of a foreign sovereign, the Vatican.
It's not clear what was contained in the seized documentation — some news reports say there were 47 folders seized. But official Holy See documentation could be considered protected under the Vatican's sovereign status were prosecutors to try to get it admitted in any court proceedings.
Gotti Tedeschi and the IOR's general manager were placed under investigation in 2010 by Rome prosecutors for alleged violations of Italy's anti-money laundering norms in conducting a routine transaction from an IOR account at an Italian bank. Prosecutors seized some €23 million ($28.97 million) from the account but eventually returned it after the Vatican passed an anti-money laundering law that went into effect last year.
Gotti Tedeschi has long called the investigation the result of a misunderstanding. He hasn't been charged.
Gotti Tedeschi's ouster and subsequent raid on his home has convulsed a Vatican already reeling from the leaks of documents from the pope's desk that ended up in a recently published book, documentation that paints a picture of a Catholic Church hierarchy as little more than a group of petty, provincial Italian bureaucrats engaged in Machiavellian power struggles.
Already the pope's butler has been arrested in the leaks case, accused of keeping papal documents in his Vatican City apartment.
Gotti Tedeschi was named president of the Vatican bank, known by its Italian acronym IOR, in 2009, tapped by the pope's No. 2 to help rid the bank of its reputation as a scandal-plagued tax haven and help get the Vatican on the so-called "white list" of countries that share financial information to crack down on tax evasion.
A critical step in that process is just weeks away with a Council of Europe committee deciding in early July on whether the Vatican has complied with dozens of anti-money-laundering measures. The upheavals of recent weeks have certainly clouded the Vatican's chances.
In the statement Friday, the Vatican repeated that Gotti Tedeschi was ousted for "objective reasons concerning the governance" of the IOR and not because of any opposition to financial transparency "which is at the heart of Holy See authorities and the Institute itself."
It praised the IOR's current staff; Gotti Tedeschi was known to have clashed with the bank's general manager Paolo Cipriani, who remains under investigation in the 2010 money-laundering case.
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