Pope’s bodyguard resigns over financial leaks scandal

Nicole Winfield
Associated Press

Vatican City – The Vatican’s latest scandal claimed its first victim Monday as Pope Francis’ chief bodyguard resigned over the leak of a Vatican police flyer identifying five employees who were suspended as part of a financial investigation.

The Vatican said its police chief, Domenico Giani, bore no responsibility for the leaked flyer but resigned to avoid disrupting the investigation and “out of love for the church and faithfulness” to the pope.

Vatican head of security Domenico Giani, right, shares a word with Pope Francis on Sunday in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican.

The person who leaked the document to the Italian newsweekly L’Espresso remains unknown.

Giani, a 20-year veteran of the Vatican’s security services, has stood by Francis’ side and jogged alongside his popemobile during hundreds of public appearances and foreign trips. He also was the chief bodyguard for Pope Benedict XVI, and the Vatican took pains to stress his “unquestionable faithfulness and loyalty” to the Holy See.

Giani had signed the Oct. 2 police flyer after his agents raided two Holy See offices – the secretariat of state and the Vatican’s financial intelligence unit – as part of an investigation by Vatican criminal prosecutors into alleged financial irregularities surrounding a 150 million euro investment into London real estate.

The deal, which allegedly resulted in middlemen ripping off millions of euros from the Holy See over the past decade, has itself raised questions about the Vatican’s murky finances and poor investment strategies in the past decade.

The raids and related suspensions, launched following more recent efforts to recover some of the lost money, were highly unusual for the Vatican and sparked fresh speculation about its Machiavellian turf battles, power struggles and score-settling.

That the alleged leaker remains unknown has added to the mystery surrounding the case, which has implicated high-ranking Vatican cardinals and monsignors.

In this instance, officials have spoken openly of an institutional crisis, particularly over the raid on the financial intelligence unit known as the Financial Information Authority. The office shares financial information with counterparts in dozens of countries as part of global efforts to crack down on money laundering, tax evasion and terrorist financing.

National financial intelligence units might be unwilling to share sensitive information with the Holy See if raids were executed without sufficient cause.

To date, the Vatican hasn’t said what, if any, evidence it has of the agency’s wrongdoing.

International officials familiar with the case said the agency had in recent months been working with its international counterparts to trace financial flows of the middlemen who were accused of defrauding the Vatican in the real estate deal, suggesting the raids were meant to stop the investigation in its tracks before officials inside and out of the Vatican who might be benefiting were caught.

Giani’s Oct. 2 flyer was sent to all Swiss Guards and members of the Vatican gendarmes police force as an internal directive barring entry to the Vatican by the five employees, who were suspended from their jobs as a precaution. Featuring the employees’ photographs, names and job titles, the directive resembled a wanted poster, even though none of the five was placed under investigation.

L’Espresso and its daily newspaper, La Repubblica, published the directive and it was widely redistributed online.

In a statement announcing Giani’s departure, the Vatican said the publication of the document greatly harmed the employees’ dignity as well as the image of the Vatican gendarmes. Giani himself said that he was ashamed by the publication and that he felt personally for the five employees.