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CORRUPTION

Senior cleric hit with fresh laundering charges

A former Vatican accountant already under house arrest and on trial for alleged corruption and attempted money laundering has been notified of fresh charges against him, Italy's financial police said on Tuesday.

Senior cleric hit with fresh laundering charges
Nunzio Scarano has been notified of fresh charges against him. Photo: AFP/Guardia di Finanza

The police said they had seized Monsignor Nunzio Scarano's luxury 17-room apartment as well as nearly €9.0 million on current accounts, including €2.2 million held in the Vatican bank.

"This is very significant," the police said in a statement, a reference to unprecedented levels of cooperation between Vatican and Italian judicial authorities on a high-profile financial crime case.

The police said a priest in Scarano's hometown of Salerno who was an aide to the monsignor, Father Luigi Noli, has also been charged and put under house arrest.

A total of 52 people are being investigated in the case, including a notary who allegedly helped organise the money laundering scheme and lawyers, doctors and businesspeople who are suspected of making use of it.

Scarano is accused of taking cheques marked "Donation for the Poor" and in return giving cash from accounts at the Vatican bank, officially known as the Institute of Religious Works or IOR under its Italian acronym.

The police said they had also seized two bank accounts at a branch near the Vatican of Italy's UniCredit, one in Scarano's name and the other belonging to a company in which the prelate held 99 percent of shares.

One of the cash withdrawals made by Scarano and traced by police was for €588,248 and the police said he gave it to 50 people and used it to pay back a mortgage.

They said they managed to find at least five million euros that Scarano "had at his disposal" and alleged he made extensive property investments in Salerno.

The prelate's lawyer, Silverio Sica, said his client was in a depressive state and has made a request for him to be able to visit a psychiatrist.

The police said their suspicions were first aroused in January 2013 when Scarano reported a theft from his home of "several million euros' worth of valuables" — a sum they said was "significantly disproportionate" to his declared income.

Scarano was arrested in June of last year on suspicion of being an intermediary for suspect payments from Monaco to Italy, carried out through the Vatican bank.

The clergyman has since been suspended from his duties as chief accountant for APSA, the organisation that manages the Vatican's vast real estate portfolio.

Investigators said Scarano used IOR accounts to make transfers to friends and attempted to repatriate from Switzerland 20 million euros that were untaxed, on behalf of a family of ship owners from Naples.

Scarano has defended himself saying that the payments were intented to build an old people's home in Salerno.

He has since been released from prison and placed under house arrest and his trial opened in December last year.

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PROPERTY

Italy’s building superbonus: What’s the problem with credit transfers?

There's concern that people trying to claim Italy's 'superbonus 110' now face further delays due to problems getting lines. Here's what's happening and why.

Italy's building superbonus: What's the problem with credit transfers?

There have been numerous changes made to the superbonus scheme in the two years since it was introduced, offering generous discounts to homeowners planning renovation work.

With a potential rebate of up to 110 percent of the cost of works which increase a property’s energy efficiency or reduce the risk of earthquake damage, the bonus has been unsurprisingly popular.

READ ALSO: Nine things we’ve learned about claiming Italy’s building ‘superbonus’

But this popularity has led to widespread delays and left many unsure whether they can start or complete building projects in time to meet the deadlines.

Most delays so far have been due to high demand creating backlogs for construction companies, which are also facing a shortage of builders and materials.

All this has meant some projects took months to get started – while others still haven’t begun at all, and some homeowners have now abandoned their plans altogether as a result.

In recent weeks, a new issue has been reported that looks set to cause further issues for some of those hoping to access the scheme.

READ ALSO: Is it too late to claim Italy’s building ‘superbonus’?

More bureaucratic bottlenecks continue to slow down accessing Italy’s superbonus. Photo by Gianluca Carenza on Unsplash

Homeowners have reported problems with the credit transfer system, or the way people access the government funds to pay for the building work.

Some readers of The Local have told us their projects have been put on hold as they’ve been informed by their surveyor or building contractor that financing for the bonus is frozen.

But this issue doesn’t seem to affect all projects or homeowners hoping to access the funds. So what exactly is going on?

One issue is that some banks have stopped buying credit – and therefore lending – in recent months, due to increasingly complex bureaucracy and confusion over the procedure for accessing the bonus.

Meanwhile, billions of euros’ worth of fraudulent claims led the government to introduce stricter rules on accessing the fund, which has in many cases blocked access to credit for months, stalling renovation projects.

The increasing difficulty of obtaining credit has caused ever-worsening supply chain issues.

READ ALSO: How Italy’s building bonuses are delaying the restyle of one-euro homes

In fact, 33,000 businesses are said to be at risk of bankruptcy due to blockages caused by the anti-fraud measures, according to the CNA (Confederazione Nazionale dell’Artigianato e della Piccola e Media Impresa), which represents Italian small business owners.

This equates to some €2.6 billion in credit accrued by suppliers that is yet to be reimbursed, blocked by the halt on lending from the banks.

According to CNA data, more than 60,000 companies have gained credit but no liquidity: that is, no actual money has been received.

The knock-on effect of this is that the superbonus, after having contributed to last year’s increase in GDP, now reportedly risks causing the bankruptcy of many companies and the loss of 150,000 jobs in the construction sector.

Along with almost half (48.6 percent) of the companies the CNA surveyed facing bankruptcy, more than two-thirds (68.4 percent) predict a blockage to their building jobs, leaving construction sites empty and unfinished, while one in five building companies is unable to pay employees.

For homeowners this means there’s a chance renovation projects could be further delayed, or abandoned.

However, according to Italian media reports, it looks likely that the state will need to provide funding to cover the costs and avert a serious economic and social crisis.

How did this happen?

Since it was introduced, the superbonus has undergone some 14 changes and it has been blocked six times, according to Gabriele Buia, president of ANCE, National Association of Building Contractors, (Associazione nazionale costruttori edili).

In response, companies tried to find ways around the credit blocks by finding other banks willing to pay the credit.

Some companies are still in this process, and without payment, works remain on hold.

This bottleneck is causing “very serious problems” in an “anarchic and unregulated” market, according to Buia, with many firms already having done the work but unable to get the credit back, leading to further supply chain issues.

“Two years ago, it was the Wild West. Anyone could get credit to use the bonus – a person, company or business. Due to that, the authorities lost track of sales and plenty of fraudulent claims slipped through the net,” tax expert Nicolò Bolla of Accounting Bolla told us.

“Everything stopped. Then they regulated too much, creating more bureaucracy and delays. So now, they’ve deregulated a little to reopen the transfer of credit,” he added.

The credit transfer system is complex and keeps causing delays to accessing the bonus. Photo: Annie Gray on Unsplash

Along with the reasons above, banks also faced rising inflation, which in part caused them to stop lending.

“Somebody needs to offset the tax at some point. Many banks wanted to buy the credit and resell it to larger banks, but any credit that couldn’t be offset in their taxes got wasted.

“It made the banks less willing to buy credit, which in turn slowed down companies’ and individuals’ ability to access it,” he added.

Now, to keep better track of projects, Italy’s tax office (Agenzia delle Entrate) has introduced new tracking systems in its latest ruling.

READ ALSO: The hidden costs of buying a home in Italy

What continues to cause concern is the timeframe for accessing the superbonus.

Single family homes only have just under four months to complete 30 percent of overall works, with a final deadline of total completion by December 31st, 2022.

As delays roll on and home renovators have already waited for months and months, is there the danger of being left with a half renovated home with the bills to pay?

Worryingly, “absolutely” is the response from Buia.

“Without liquidity, construction sites will either come to a standstill or not start. And they will remain at a standstill until they are certain that their credit will be granted,” he stated.

Are there other ways to access credit for the superbonus?

There are a few routes to obtaining Italy’s superbonus.

The option of offsetting tax from income is likely only financially viable for very high earners (in the highest tax bracket), as any unused tax discount gets lost.

Let’s say your renovation costs come to €100,000, which are tax deductible at 110 percent for five years.

You would then be eligible for a tax break of €22,000 every year for five years, but it all depends on how much income tax (‘Irpef’) you pay to begin with.

If your yearly tax bill comes to less than the tax break, you lose the deduction and will end up footing the rest of the renovation bill.

READ ALSO: Do you have to be Italian to claim Italy’s building bonuses?

Note the latest changes specify tax deductions for the superbonus will be spread over four years, not five as previously.

Little surprise, then, that the other two options to access the funds – transferring the credit (cessione del credito) or discount on the invoice (sconto in fattura) – have been more popular.

It effectively means you either trade the tax credit for cash to an Italian financial institution, such as a bank, for the credit transfer, or directly to your contractor or supplier for the discount on the invoice.

Using the credit transfer system means you’ll get cash back that you paid, directly in your bank account.

It’s a slightly riskier route than a discount on the invoice, as the latter means the the supplier recovers the bonus on your behalf, taking a slice of it as a fee.

So, you get less of the bonus but you don’t have to deal with the paperwork and the contractor takes the burden of getting the credit.

“The easiest option is the discount on the invoice,” according to Bolla.

“It takes care of the credit transfer. If you deal with the bank yourself, it takes some expertise and requires a little knowledge of technology and the system, such as downloading and uploading invoices.

“Contractors have multiple sales, so they are more trained to do that,” he added.

However, as noted, since suppliers have also struggled to get the credit, building projects may be queued until these companies can get reimbursed.

See more in our Italian property section.

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