Vatican's Claim to Statehood used to Avoid Lawsuit
November 28, 2000

The Vatican's bank has asked a U.S. court to throw out a lawsuit charging it with laundering gold and other assets stolen by a Nazi puppet regime, arguing that the Vatican has immunity because it is an independent state.

A class-action lawsuit brought in November 1999 accuses the Vatican Bank along with the Franciscan Order and the Swiss National Bank of laundering hundreds of millions of dollars in gold and other assets looted by Croatia's brutal Nazi-allied Ustasha regime from 1941-1945.

The lawsuit seeks restitution and an accounting of the looted assets. It also accuses the Vatican and other banks of helping to secretly transfer money from the Ustasha treasury out of Yugoslavia, which was then used to help Croatian and Nazi war criminals escape Europe after the war.

The Vatican asked the U.S. government last month to intervene in the lawsuit, prompting Jonathan Levy, one of the plaintiffs' lawyers, to say he hoped this meant the Vatican wanted to negotiate.

Elan Steinberg, executive director of the World Jewish Congress, said that the United States only got involved in similar lawsuits where the defendants have expressed a willingness to cooperate and reach a settlement. This is not the case with the Vatican, which so far has failed to open up its wartime archives.