Survivors ask EU to probe Vatican on looted assets

10/30/2010 20:29

From Jersualem Post:

Holocaust survivors from the former Yugoslavia accused the Vatican of helping allies of Nazi Germany launder their stolen valuables, and have asked the European Commission to investigate their claims.

“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 October 20 to Olli Rehn, the European Union’s economic and monetary affairs commissioner. Levy provided the letter to Bloomberg.

The request follows a decadelong lawsuit in US courts on behalf of Holocaust survivors and their heirs from the former Yugoslavia and Ukraine. That case, basing its claims on a US State Department report on the fate of Nazi plunder, alleged that the Vatican Bank laundered assets stolen from thousands of Jews, gypsies and Serbs killed or captured by the Ustasha, the German-backed regime of wartime Croatia. The Vatican repeatedly denied the charges and the findings of the 1998 US report.

Amadeu Altafaj, Rehn’s spokesman, said Tuesday in Brussels that he didn’t know if the commission had received Levy’s letter. Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi declined to comment on Levy’s request to the commission.

The US case, which sought as much as $2 billion in restitution, was dismissed last December by a US appeals court in San Francisco on the grounds that the Vatican Bank enjoyed immunity under the 1976 Foreign Service Immunities Act, which may prevent foreign governments from facing lawsuits in the US.

The commission should have the authority to probe the Institute for Religious Works, or IOR, as the Vatican Bank is called, according to Levy’s letter. It cites a monetary accord signed on December 17 of last year. Under the agreement the Vatican, which uses the euro and issues euro coins, pledged to implement EU laws against money-laundering, counterfeiting and fraud.

Rome prosecutors have also sought to show that the Vatican bank is covered under European law. Last month, they seized $32 million from an Italian account registered to the IOR as they opened a probe into alleged violations of money-laundering laws by the Vatican Bank.

“We looked at all the places where the Vatican may have surrendered sovereignty,” Levy said in a telephone interview. “The only place we could find was with the euro, where they placed themselves under the jurisdiction of either the European Central Bank or the European Commission.”

The US lawsuit was first filed in 1999, one year after an official Swiss commission concluded that Switzerland received three times more gold taken from Nazi victims than previously estimated by the US government.

The same year, UBS and Credit Suisse, the biggest Swiss banks, agreed to pay $1.25b. in compensation to Holocaust survivors and their heirs.

Under its agreement with the commission, the Vatican pledged to implement EU legislation against money-laundering by year’s end.

Rehn said the Vatican had submitted its first draft laws “on the prevention of money-laundering and the fight against fraud and counterfeiting” and the commission is analyzing them, according to his reply to a question from a member of the European Parliament, posted on its website on September 9.

Lombardi declined on October 23 to say whether the Vatican intended to meet the December 31 deadline for implementing the EU legislation.



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