Vatican bank
An exterior view of the tower of the Institute for the Works of Religion in Vatican City appears in this photograph taken in 2011. Reuters/Stringer

Bank accounts of two former Vatican Bank managers and an attorney representing them were frozen by a Vatican prosecutor, who suspects the three men were embezzling. The three are accused of stealing money while selling Vatican-owned real estate in the 2000s, Reuters exclusively reported Saturday. Prosecutor Gian Piero Milano said the money in the men’s bank accounts, about €16.0 million ($19.7 million), “stems from embezzlement they were engaged in,” according to an Oct. 27 sequester order obtained by the news agency.

Milano accused the bank’s ex-president, Angelo Caloia, and former director general, Lelio Scaletti, of consistently lying about the sale prices of Vatican-owned real estate on the bank’s official books and then pocketing the difference between the recorded amount and the true sale price. Their legal consultant, Gabriele Liuzzo, allegedly received some of the money as well. A whopping €57 million were apparently swiped between 2001 and 2008, when the bank sold 29 buildings, according to the order obtained by Reuters.

Liuzzo, 91, told Reuters his accounts had been frozen, but said Milano’s allegations were “rubbish” and that the money from the sales had all gone to the bank. Caloia, 75, and Scaletti, 88, did not respond to the news agency’s requests for comment, according to its report.

Officially known as the Institute for the Works of Religion, the Vatican Bank released a statement saying it had pressed charges against the three men in an “ongoing judicial enquiry.” Caloia, Scaletti and Liuzzo have not yet been charged, Reuters reported.

The bank is the hub of Vatican finances, but has been rocked by scandal in recent years. It has changed management and closed hundreds of bank accounts to reduce secrecy and comply with international laws -- an initiative advanced by Pope Francis to bring the bank in line with European banks. A close friend of the pontiff was appointed prelate of the Vatican bank last year, which many saw as an attempt to help straighten the bank’s crooked reputation.

Pope Francis also formed an investigative committee to probe the bank’s activities and administrative structure after serious allegations of money laundering, corruption and infighting were exposed during the VatiLeaks scandal in 2012, as the New York Times reported at the time.