iD magazine - - History -

On Septem­ber 2, 1957, Michele Sin­dona en­ters the Grand Ho­tel Et Des Palmes in the Italian city of Palermo. Two body­guards check the lawyer for weapons be­fore he meets the crème de la crème of the crim­i­nal un­der­world. In a lux­ury suite sit rep­re­sen­ta­tives of the U.S. and Italian Mafias— rulers of drugs, weapons, and pros­ti­tu­tion. “How can we laun­der mil­lions of dol­lars?” they ask Sin­dona. “Don’t worry,” he replies. “I have a plan.”

At the cen­ter of the plan is the Vat­i­can Bank. Sin­dona isn’t just a lawyer, he’s also a banker. From his own fi­nan­cial in­sti­tu­tion, he trans­fers Mafia money to the Vat­i­can Bank— and then on to an es­crow ac­count abroad. So in­di­rectly, the Vat­i­can washes the blood and cocaine off the Mafia’s ban­knotes. For this cru­cial ser­vice the Vat­i­can Bank col­lects a hefty 15%, a high com­mis­sion that says “Don’t ask ques­tions!” In­sider Mar­cello Bor­dini later tes­ti­fied: “It took place ev­ery day, and the sums were very high. The method was ut­terly prim­i­tive and crim­i­nal.” And yet it still works to this day…

These fi­nan­cial trans­ac­tions are only the be­gin­ning of the al­liance be­tween the Vat­i­can and the Mafia. Sin­dona is a guest of the Holy See’s bank so of­ten that Pope Paul VI makes him a fi­nan­cial ad­viser: “I was told, Michele Sin­dona, that you have been sent from God.” Sin­dona im­me­di­ately gets to work: He merges all the semi­le­gal and il­le­gal as­sets to en­rich him­self and the Vat­i­can. The cash flows of his two clients, the Mafia and Vat­i­can, soon unite into a mighty river. But this was only the first step for Sin­dona and the Vat­i­can Bank…

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