VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - Five Vatican employees, including the number two at the Vatican’s Financial Information Authority (AIF) and a monsignor, have been suspended following a police raid, the Italian magazine L’Espresso reported on Wednesday.
The scandal, affecting two departments at the heart of the Vatican, was the first after several years of relative calm in which reforms enacted by Pope Francis appeared to be taking root.
A Vatican spokesman said he had no immediate comment on the report.
On its website, L’Espresso published a picture of a police notice to guards at Vatican gates telling them not to allow in the five employees because they had been suspended. The notice included photographs of the five, one of whom is a woman.
The people whose pictures were on the notice included Tommaso Di Ruzza, the director of the AIF, and Monsignor Mauro Carlino, the head of documentation at the Secretariat of State. The other three held minor roles in the Secretariat of State, the key department in the Vatican’s central administration.
Calls to Di Ruzza’s cell phone went unanswered. Reuters was not immediately able to contact the other officials.
A senior Vatican source said he was aware of the suspension of four employees from the Secretariat of State, but not of Di Ruzza’s suspension.
Vatican police raided both offices on Tuesday and seized documents and electronic devices as part of an investigation of suspected financial irregularities.
Tuesday’s raid is believed to be the first time the two departments were searched for evidence involving alleged financial crimes.
The Secretariat of State, the most powerful department in the Vatican, is the nerve center of its bureaucracy and diplomacy and the administrative heart of the worldwide Catholic Church.
The AIF, headed by Swiss lawyer Rene Bruelhart, Di Ruzza’s boss, is the financial controller, with authority over all Vatican departments.
In a statement on Tuesday, the Vatican said the operation was a follow-up to complaints filed in the summer by the Vatican bank and the Office of the Auditor General and were related to “financial operations carried out over the course of time”.
The magazine report was written by Emiliano Fittipaldi, who has authored several books on Vatican financial scandals.
He wrote that Vatican investigators were believed to be looking into real estate transactions, particularly relating to expensive properties in London.
A senior Vatican source told Reuters shortly after the raid was announced on Tuesday that real estate deals were involved.
Fittipaldi said investigators were also looking into the use of money from Peter’s Pence, a fund taken up in parishes around the world and earmarked for the pope’s charitable activities.
Since Francis’ election in 2013, the Vatican has tried to clean up its financial reputation.
Last year, a former head of the Vatican bank and an Italian lawyer went on trial to face charges of money laundering and embezzlement through real estate deals. The trial is still in progress.
The AIF said in May that reports of suspicious financial activity in the Vatican reached a six-year low in 2018, continuing a trend officials said showed reforms were in place.
The bank, officially known as the Institute for Works of Religion, or IOR, was for decades embroiled in numerous financial scandals as Italians with no right to have accounts opened them with the complicity of corrupt insiders.
Hundreds of IOR accounts were closed at the bank, whose stated purpose is to manage funds for the Church, Vatican employees, religious institutes or Catholic charities.
Italy put the Vatican on its “white list” of states with cooperative financial institutions in 2017, ending years of mistrust.
Moneyval, a monitoring body of the Council of Europe, gave Vatican financial reforms a mostly positive evaluation in a review the same year.
Reporting By Philip Pullella; Editing by Alex Richardson and Timothy Heritage