Jan. 22 (UPI) -- The former head of the Vatican bank has been sentenced to almost nine years in prison for money laundering and a real estate embezzlement scheme during the pontificates of Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict.
The Tribunal of the Vatican City State sentenced Angelo Caloia, 81, former president of the bank called the Institute for Works of Religion, and two of his lawyers Thursday after a decades-old investigation into the straw-buyer sales of almost 30 Vatican-owned properties between 2001 and 2008, a statement from the Holy See's press office said.
Caloia, the highest-ranking bank official to be charged in a series of Vatican bank investigations, and his lawyer Gabriele Liuzzo, 97, were both sentenced to eight years and eleven months in prison. Liuzzo's son Lamberto, 55, was sentenced to five years and two months for money laundering.
Caloia and his colleagues were indicted in 2018, when prosecutors said they participated in a scheme to sell 29 Vatican-owned properties around Rome at reduced prices to false buyers, who then flipped them for market value and gave kickbacks to the bank president and his associates.
The bank lost approximately $41.3 million in potential revenue because of artificially low real estate sale prices, prosecutors said. They also accused the trio of pocketing an additional $23.1 million in kickbacks, hidden in Swiss bank accounts.
The defendants were permanently banned from holding public office and were ordered to forfeit sums totaling approximately $46.2 million, plus another $28 million as part of a separate civil suit.
Before the verdict, Caloia said he was innocent and called himself a "victim" of "operations orchestrated by other people," Euronews reported. The three men said they would appeal the sentences.
The Vatican promised to continue to investigate financial irregularities involving the bank, saying that the convictions were "the first application of the legislation introduced in December 2018, within the more general framework of the adaptation of Vatican legislation to international standards for combatting money laundering, corruption and other serious crimes."
The IOR was founded by papal decree by Pope Pius XII in 1942 as a repository for the thousands of Catholic religious orders worldwide.
After a number of banking scandals and financial irregularities, Pope Benedict and the Vatican embarked on a series of reforms of the Vatican banking system in 2010, which have been continued by Pope Francis, who oversaw the reorganization of the bank, including closing hundreds of suspect accounts, in 2014.