VATICAN BLOCKS AUDIT OF NAZI-LOOTED ASSETS
EU Says it Lacks Authority to Intervene
VATICAN CITY: The Vatican Authority for Financial Information, tasked with monitoring the scandal-plagued Vatican Bank, continues to deny requests to audit accounts alleged to contain Holocaust-era assets looted in the Balkans. About 30 current and former Vatican Bank accounts have been identified as suspect, some of them controlled by the Franciscan Order and various Croatian dioceses.
On December 4, 2013, the Vatican Financial Authority reached a bilateral agreement with the German Federal Criminal Police Office, pledging cooperation on anti-money laundering following a previous agreement with the Dutch Financial Intelligence Unit. Ironically, Germany and Holland have taken significant measures to recover assets looted during the Second World War, which continue to surface, including the recent discovery of over a billion dollars worth of Nazi-looted art in Munich.
Dr. Jonathan Levy, the attorney for several thousand Holocaust victims, their heirs and organizations, has criticized the Vatican Financial Authority and its Director Rene Bruelhart.
“Mr. Bruelhart and his immediate superior Cardinal Nicora are the ultimate insiders," Levy says. "They claim to be auditing accounts at the Vatican Bank, but do not have the decency to respond to our repeated requests. From my point of view, they are continuing the ongoing Vatican cover-up.”
Dr. Levy also noted that his firm’s investigations and ensuing litigation, beginning in 1998, has uncovered a Vatican Bank connection to looted assets from other countries, including Germany, Austria, Slovakia, Hungary, and Romania.
“After World War Two," he says, "there was a pressing need to move assets from Soviet-occupied lands as the Iron Curtain descended on eastern Europe." Converting these assets into Church property, deposited at the Vatican Bank, was "an effective method. However, these assets often were commingled with property looted by the Nazi and Axis regimes of Hungary, Romania, Slovakia and Croatia.”
The funds at stake came from the Ustasha Treasury, consisting of gold and valuables looted from Yugoslavia during the Second World War, deposited at the Vatican Bank in 1946, but never accounted for. This week Levy lodged a complaint with both the Dutch Financial Intelligence Unit and German Bundeskriminalamt, following an unsuccessful three-year effort to move the European Commission to investigate the Vatican Bank. The EU concluded that anti-money laundering treaties with the Vatican do not apply to the Vatican Bank, but only the Vatican Financial Authority can call for an audit.
The EU reply:
The 2009 Prequel:
Nazi-loot suit against Vatican dismissedBy Patricia Zapot Catholic News Service, Dec. 31, 2009
WASHINGTON -- A California appeals court dismissed a lawsuit against the Vatican bank seeking restitution for Holocaust survivors who said the bank stored and laundered millions of dollars worth of assets looted by a Nazi-backed regime in Croatia.The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Dec. 29 upheld a federal District Court ruling that said that as an agency of a sovereign state, the Vatican bank is immune from such lawsuits. The 1976 Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act protects other countries from being sued in U.S. courts, the court noted.
The lawsuit sought an accounting from the Vatican of assets the plaintiffs allege were stored and laundered by the church under the Nazi-backed Ustasha government in Croatia. It also asked for restitution and damages.The class-action suit was originally filed in 1999, on behalf of potentially hundreds of thousands of concentration camp survivors of Serbian, Jewish, Roma and Ukrainian background and their heirs. It currently has about 28 named plaintiffs, according to their attorney.Still remaining is a similar lawsuit against the Franciscan order, which also was dismissed by the Northern California District Court and is on appeal to the 9th Circuit.Jonathan Levy, a Washington-based attorney who represents the plaintiffs, told Catholic News Service Dec. 30 that it hadn't yet been decided whether to appeal the 9th Circuit ruling involving the Vatican bank to the Supreme Court.Levy said there is a stronger connection between the Croatian assets and U.S.-based Franciscan entities than there was to the Vatican, creating what he believes is a better case for pursuing the religious order for redress.The case started after the U.S. State Department in 1998 issued a report linking the Vatican to the disappearance in 1945 of the treasury of the "Nazi Puppet State of Croatia," according to background material on the plaintiffs' Web site, www.vaticanbankclaims.com.The site says that during the war some Franciscans were "militant Catholics" who "led pogroms against Orthodox Christian Serbs, Roma and Jews" and that Franciscans in Rome helped smuggle the Ustasha treasury out of the country. The Ustasha ran a brutal Nazi-backed government in Croatia between 1941 and 1945.
In a November order finding the lawsuit against the Franciscans fell outside the jurisdiction of the federal court, District Judge Maxine Chesney left open the door to refiling the case in a state court.
Levy told CNS that there are connections linking the missing assets to the Croatian Franciscan Custody based in Chicago, making it possible the plaintiffs will pursue their claims in a state court.
The U.S.-based lawsuit was filed after Swiss banks agreed in 1998 to pay $1.25 billion in restitution to people who said the banks stole, concealed or sent to the Nazis hundreds of millions of dollars worth of property owned by Jews.
Related: "Nazi Gold Funded Vatican Ratlines"