Vatican intrigue: Security chief resigns over real estate scandal

After serving three popes over 20 years, papal bodyguard forced out by leak from raid linked to UK property financing.

    Pope Francis is seen walking with Domenico Giani, right, Inspector General of the Corps of Gendarmerie - the police and security force of Vatican City [File: Tony Gentile/Reuters]
    Pope Francis is seen walking with Domenico Giani, right, Inspector General of the Corps of Gendarmerie - the police and security force of Vatican City [File: Tony Gentile/Reuters]

    Domenico Giani, the longtime security chief at the Vatican who was also the main bodyguard for Pope Francis, resigned on Monday over leaks related to an investigation into alleged financial wrongdoing.

    Giani, 57, a former member of Italy's secret services, had been part of the Vatican security apparatus for 20 years. He worked under three popes and had held the top post since 2006.

    No previous head of Vatican security has left under a shadow in living memory. His resignation is the latest twist in a saga that has gripped the Vatican for two weeks.

    It started with an unprecedented and unexplained October 2 raid by Gendarmerie security officers working for Giani on two key Vatican offices, the Financial Information Authority (Autorita di Informazione Finanziaria, or AIF) and the Secretariat of State.

    The subsequent leak and publication by media in Italy of an internal police notice bearing pictures of five Vatican employees, including the number two at AIF and a monsignor in the Secretariat of State has left the Vatican in turmoil.

    The shaven-headed Giani, who was often seen by the pope's side or running along beside the popemobile as it moved through crowds, signed the notice which showed the five, including a woman, in a format similar to a "most wanted" flyer.

    'Preventively suspended'

    Vatican sources said the pope ordered an investigation and was furious over the leak of the notice, issued to gate guards telling them the five could not enter the Vatican after being "preventively suspended".

    Sources said he was upset that the five had been represented in such a way even though they were not formally suspected of anything.

    Moreover, the investigation - into an international real estate deal - was still in its infancy.

    In a statement Monday, the Vatican said the notice was "prejudicial to the dignity of the people involved and to the image of the Gendarmerie" but that Giani "bears no personal responsibility in the unfolding of events".

    Meanwhile, Giani himself told the website of national broadcaster Vatican Media that he assumed "objective responsibility" as commander of the police force.

    'Financial operations'

    The Gendarmerie provides security together with the Swiss Guard, a separate unit with its own commander.

    Both travel with the pope when he leaves the Vatican.

    When police raided the two offices on October 2, seizing documents and electronic devices, the Vatican said it was a follow-up to complaints filed over the summer by the Vatican Bank and the Office of the Auditor General, and related to "financial operations carried out over the course of time".

    Sources say the still-murky episode has all the hallmarks of a power struggle involving the AIF, the Vatican Bank, the office of the auditor general and the Secretariat of State, the nerve centre of the tiny city-state.

    The Vatican's chief prosecutor, Gian Piero Milano, opened an investigation into the real estate deal after he received complaints.

    Those reports against "unknown persons" came from the auditor general's office and the Vatican Bank - officially known as the Institute for Works of Religion (Istituto per le Opere di Religione, or IOR).

    Milano's investigation involves a stake in a building on London's posh Sloane Avenue that the Secretariat of State purchased years ago as an investment.

    According to Vatican sources, the Secretariat of State wanted to buy out an Italian partner so it could get full control over the property in the United Kingdom.

    The Secretariat asked the IOR for a short-term bridge loan of about 150 million euros ($165m) but the IOR refused. Instead, the bank and the acting auditor general filed complaints to the Vatican prosecutor.

    SOURCE: Reuters news agency