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Vatican prosecutors investigate St.Peter’s Basilica in corruption case

Vatican police on Tuesday raided the office that manages St. Peter’s Basilica, seizing documents and electronic equipment as part of an investigation into possible corruption in procurement practices.

The extraordinary raid comes a month after the Vatican published new procurement rules intended to prevent corruption and cut costs. The Holy See Press Office said Tuesday that police had acted under orders from Vatican prosecutors in response to a report by the city state’s auditor general.

The Vatican also said Pope Francis had appointed a retired papal diplomat, Archbishop Mario Giordana, to serve as extraordinary commissioner of the Fabbrica di San Pietro, which manages the operation and maintenance of the basilica. The archbishop has been assigned the job of “updating the statutes, clarifying the administration and reorganizing the administrative and technical offices” of the Fabbrica.

The unusual step of appointing a commissioner removes responsibility from Cardinal Angelo Comastri, who has served as president of the Fabbrica since 2005.

The new procurement rules which Archbishop Giordana will be applying at the Fabbrica exclude those convicted of fraud, money laundering, tax evasion or participation in organized crime, as well as companies based in internationally recognized tax havens, from bidding for Vatican contracts.

Vatican staff members with family or professional ties to merchants who have presented bids may not serve on the panels that approve contracts.

The cardinals who elected Pope Francis in 2013 gave him a mandate to reform Vatican finances, following scandals over alleged corruption and incompetence, including €550,000 ($610,000) spent on a manger scene in St. Peter’s Square.

It is extremely rare for Vatican police to raid one of the city state’s offices, but police carried out a similar raid last October of the Vatican’s financial watchdog and the Secretariat of State, the Holy See’s executive arm, as part of an investigation into an investment in property in London’s upscale Chelsea neighborhood.

The Vatican has suspended five employees, and its security chief resigned in connection with the investigation, which is ongoing. Earlier this month, Vatican prosecutors charged an Italian businessman with extortion, embezzlement, fraud and money laundering in connection with the investment.

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