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Vatican Bank scandal reappears in Venezuela.

OXFORD, England--Financial scandal has touched and may rock the Vatican financial administration from a novel and unexpected angle.

Alberto Jaime Berti, 55, a lawyer from Venezuela, gave an interview to the Italian weekly l'Espresso about secret dealings amounting--with interest--to $400 million involving the Institute of Religious Works (IOR, otherwise known as the Vatican Bank), Opus Dei, and the Banco Ambrosiano, which crashed in 1982.

He has also been speaking to Italian magistrates, who take a keen interest in his story. They hope it will throw light on the way Roberto Calvi, head of the Banco Ambrosiano, eluded Italian fiscal and currency controls with the aid of IOR.

The judges also think that Berti's revelations will cast new light on the death of Calvi, found swinging under Blackfriars Bridge, London, June 18, 1982, with a rope around his neck. In Caracas, Venezuela, Berti was the director of Inecclesia, a body set up by the Venezuelan bishops to administer the not inconsiderable patrimony of their church. On the side, and usually at the instigation of the papal nuncio, he invested on behalf of others vouched for by "the highest church authorities."

Thus, for example, early in 1980 a Spanish financier, Luis Baron Mora-Figueroa, came along with the copper-bottomed Vatican recommendations asking him to invest $200 million. Berti swung into action. The money was moved into the Inecclesia account, then switched to a Panamanian shell company, who in turn invested it on the New York Stock Exchange through a firm of brokers.

To maximize the profit the capital had to be invested as though it belonged to a single individual; and none of the six investors could touch the money without the consent of all the others. Profits were divided equally between Inecclesia and the anonymous investors. Berti never knew for whom he was laundering the money.

But he says he has grounds for believing that the Vatican Bank, the Banco Ambrosiano and Opus Dei were all involved. Opus Dei's representative was Jose Maria Ruiz Mateos, president of the Rumasa group. (Opus Dei later broke with Ruiz Mateos and now denies all links with him).

It is known from other sources, that Rumasa's Swiss Bank was the Nordfinanzbank in Zurich, whose managing director, along with four other Opus Dei members, made up the board of the Limmat-Stiftung, another Zurich-based Opus foundation that had links with Opus banks throughout the world and had also invested in Calvi's banco Ambrosiano.

Berti's evidence for Calvi's involvement is that two days before his death in 1982, a desperate Calvi called him from London asking if he could lay hands on the $200 million. Berti reminded him of the rule: Nothing could be touched by an individual member of the group without the consent of all the other members. Calvi said that was no problem. He boasted of his links with IOR and Opus Dei.

When he died two days later, Berti concluded that Calvi couldn't get the others to agree. IOR and Opus Dei dropped him in his hour of need.

Berti does not speculate on whether Calvi's death was suicide or murder. But his evidence suggests that if Calvi felt ruined and desperate, he also knew a lot that could incriminate others. Berti confesses to his laundering function. "Money that passed through Inecclesia," he explained to ADISTA, an Italian news agency, speaking from his London exile, "is safe as houses and no one in Venezuela, either then or now, dares investigate it. The church is absolutely untouchable in Venezuela."

"That was," he went on, "the great advantage, the only advantage. An investigation that tried to trace the origins of the investment would be halted at the portals of Inecclesia. No government would take the church to court."

This is one case for which Archbishop Paul Marcinkus, though involved, is not the main culprit. Berti said he got most of his recommendations from Cardinal Egidio Vagnozzi, former apostolic delegate in Washington, by this time head of APSA (the Administration of the Patrimony of the Holy See) and from Archbishop Giovanni Benelli, whom he mistakenly thinks was Vatican secretary of state and a cardinal.

That is a forgivable error, for Benelli in the 1970s acted as though he were secretary of state, shoving aside the Frenchman, Jean Villot, who had the title.

Of course IOR was involved too, but now it refuses to acknowledge him. Msgr. Donato De Bonis, who retired from the IOR when competent lay professionals took it over, now claims he never knew Berti. Yet he signed many of their documents. And Berti has the key to the safe in the Geneva-based Banque de Paris et des Pays Bas that contains the evidence.

Berti's explanation for De Bono's denial is that he recently left IOR, becoming top chaplain to the Knights of Malta. But the presidium of the knights is regarded as a sovereign state, and the leading knights are like permanent visitors in their offices on the via Condotti, Rome's fashionable shopping street. So they have complete immunity. No one can lay a legal finger on De Bono. Berti thinks this is rather a shrewd jump sideways. It was not an escape route open to Berti who was replaced as head of Inecclesia by Opus Dei Bishop Francisco de Guruccaga, 65, auxiliary of Caracas since 1973.

Berti also reveals that another Opus Dei Bishop, Jose Joaquin Troconis, 51, auxiliary of Valencia in Venezuela, got a woman pregnant and was forced to marry her.

What was the laundered money used for? Berti has two suggestions.

Much of it was invested in public works in Venenzuela such as the construction of bridges, highways and the Caracas underground. Italian firms like Astaldi and Vianini (close to Giulio Andreotti, now being investigated for Mafia links) were also involved.

Berti's second suggestion is that immense sums of Opus Dei money from Spain found their way to Solidarity in Poland during martial law. That explains, he suggests, the preponderance of Opus Dei people in the Vatican's financial departments.

Berti says he is known to Pope John Paul II, but that he knew Pope Paul VI better, meeting him over 20 times. Though the events he is referring to took place up to 10 years ago, Italian courts are accustomed to piecing together evidence over a long period.
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Author:Hebblethwaite, Peter
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Date:Dec 24, 1993
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