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Former Vatican aide pleads guilty in fraud case

An priest with expertise in canon law pleaded guilty last Thursday to money laundering for his role in an international insurance scam orchestrated by disgraced financier Martin Frankel.

Monsignor Emilio Colagiovanni, 82, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit wire fraud and launder money. He faces a maximum of five years in prison and a $A456,913 fine.

Prosecutors recommended a reduced sentence because Colagiovanni had taken responsibility for his actions.

Colagiovanni has been staying with relatives in Ohio while the case was pending. US District Judge Ellen Bree Burns said Thursday he would be permitted to return briefly to Rome before he is sentenced. His $A913,826 bond is secured by the relatives' property.

Colagiovanni, who has served on the board that provides legal counsel to Pope John Paul II, was accused of helping use Frankel's St Francis of Assisi Foundation to acquire insurance companies, which were then looted of more than $200 million in cash.

Colagiovanni admitted he falsely told insurance companies and regulators that the charitable foundation he ran had transferred $A2.19 billion to the St Francis foundation for the purchases.

The St Francis foundation posed as a charity, but its real purpose was to mask Frankel's involvement.

As president of the Monitor Ecclesiasticus Foundation, which publishes a journal of Roman Catholic canon law, Colagiovanni controlled an account in a Vatican City bank that serves religious groups and their members. He admitted falsely telling insurance companies and regulators that the money to buy the companies came from his organization, which had received the funds from Catholic charities and the Vatican, including the pope.

Frankel pleaded guilty in May to US federal corruption charges. He has also pleaded guilty to corruption and theft charges in Tennessee and Mississippi. He is expected to be sentenced next year.

Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls has said the Vatican neither received funds from the foundations nor furnished any.

Martin Frankel: Sex, Greed and $200 Million Fraud (Crime Library)

The Hartford Courant-AP

10 Sep 2002