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Vatican bank directors step down

The director and the deputy director of the Vatican Bank have resigned. This comes three days after a Vatican official was arrested in a financial scandal as the pope seeks to clean up the bank.

The Vatican announced on Monday that Paolo Cipriani, director of the Vatican bank, and his deputy, Massimo Tulli, had stepped down "in the best interest of the institute and the Holy See."

The bank has come under increased scrutiny since Pope Francis assumed the papacy, and has long been of interest to Italian authorities who suspect it is used as a tax haven.

Last week, a Vatican accountant was placed under arrest as part of an investigation by authorities in Rome into the Institute for Religious Works (IOR), as the bank is officially called.

Monsignor Nunzio Scarano is suspected of taking part in a plot to smuggle 20 million euros ($26 million) into Italy from Switzerland. He and two other accomplices are thought to have planned to give the money to Scarano's friends in the shipping industry in the southern city of Salerno. Scarano is being investigated in Salerno on separate charges of money laundering.

The IOR President, Ernst von Freyberg, has been named by the five cardinals who oversee the bank to be its interim director.

"While we are grateful for what has been achieved, it is clear today that we need new leadership to increase the pace of this transformation process," von Freyberg said in a statement, in which he also thanked Cipriani and Tulli for their service to the bank.

Banking expert Antonio Montaresi has been brought on board in a new position as the IOR's chief risk officer, and Italian banker Rolando Marranci has been named interim deputy director.

Last week, the Holy See announced that the IOR would be the target of an investigation overseen personally by the pope.

The financial institution has been plagued with scandals during its 71-year history. Its usefulness has been openly questioned by the new pontiff.

The pope said he was establishing the commission because he "wants to know better the legal position and the activities of the institute so that they can be better harmonized with the mission of the Universal Church and of the Apostolic Seat."

mz/kms (AP, Reuters, AFP)