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.
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.
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.
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
“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
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
The same year, UBS and Credit Suisse, the biggest Swiss
banks, agreed to pay $1.25b. in compensation to Holocaust survivors and their
Under its agreement with the commission, the Vatican pledged to
implement EU legislation against money-laundering by year’s end.
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
Lombardi declined on October 23 to say whether the Vatican intended to
meet the December 31 deadline for implementing the EU