"The cardinal supposedly sought a $150,000 loan to fix the cathedral as well as more than $10 million, which was withdrawn over the counter ... "
October 07, 1997
Argentine cardinal to testify in bank fraud case
By Stephen Brown
BUENOS AIRES (Reuter) - An Argentine court probing an estimated $200 million bank fraud said Tuesday it had summoned the country's Roman Catholic leader to give evidence about checks and a loan that might have been fraudulent.
Court officials did not suggest there had been any wrongdoing by the church.
A public prosecutor investigating the fraud that led to the collapse over the summer of Banco de Credito Provincial meanwhile issued arrest warrants for its two main shareholders, sons of a former Argentine envoy to the Vatican.
The BCP scandal was exposed by a television report in late August about millions of dollars in fraudulent loans, which led to a run on deposits and a failed $40 million rescue attempt by shareholders. The bank was then put up for sale.
Public Prosecutor Octavio Sequeiros has now ordered the arrest of the main shareholders, brothers Francisco and Pablo Trusso, together with the entire board of the bank. The BCP was an 86-year-old family institution based in the city of La Plata and with 67 branches in Buenos Aires Province.
``He believes the directors could not have been unaware of the fraud,'' an official at Sequeiros' office told Reuters.
``The $200 million is just an estimate,'' the official said. ''It could be bigger. What we know is that there were lists of loans made to people but no documentation to back up those loans. The files simply do not exist.''
Cardinal Antonio Quarracino, Archbishop of Buenos Aires and head of the Roman Catholic Church in Argentina, is being called on to give evidence about possibly fraudulent transactions.
``The cardinal supposedly sought a $150,000 loan to fix the cathedral as well as more than $10 million, which was withdrawn over the counter in two checks apparently signed by the cardinal's secretary,'' the Sequeiros aide said.
Handwriting experts will be called in to to verify whether the signatures on the checks really belonged to the primate's private secretary or were forged.
Contacted by Reuters, the cardinal's office said it had ''nothing to say for the moment.'' The Catholic Information Agency, which usually handles his press statements, said Quarracino had made no public comments on the matter.
The bank has been suspended since August. Stricken BCP savers began to receive payments of a maximum of $1,000 Monday. The sale is going ahead, with the Central Bank scheduling a tender for Friday and buying interest reported from Chile.