July 22, 1997

Clinton says U.S. probes records on Vatican

WASHINGTON (Reuter) - President Clinton Tuesday said the Treasury Department was reviewing its documents to determine the extent to which the Vatican may have held money taken from Nazi victims during the Second World War.

His comments came after a U.S. cable television network reported the discovery of a 1946 Treasury Department document charging that the Vatican let Croatian fascists hide gold coins and cash worth about $130 million that had been taken from Serbs and Jews.

``The Treasury Department has assured me that they have historians combing the records and we will reveal whatever information we have and let the facts take us where they lead us,'' Clinton told reporters at the White House.

Chief Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls denied the allegations contained in the document, saying: ``These reports have no basis in reality.''

The World Jewish Congress called on the Vatican to finally open its extensive Second World War archives and to set up an independent commission to investigate its role in the war.

WJC vice president Kalman Sultanik said: ``The archives have remained sealed by the Vatican despite repeated pleas by scholars that they be opened. We believe this pope who has recognized Israel and condemned anti-Semitism will rise above petty bureaucrats who seek to obscure the truth.''

A&E, a cable television network, said it came across the document during research for a two-hour documentary, ``Blood Money: Switzerland's Nazi Gold,'' to be broadcast Saturday.

The find marked the first time in a more than a year-long hunt of U.S. national archives by researchers that the Vatican has been mentioned in connection with gold looted by the Nazis or their allies.

The previously classified document, dated October 1946, said that pro-Nazi Croatian fascists removed about 350 million Swiss francs from Yugoslavia at the end of the war.

In the document, U.S. Treasury Department official Emerson Bigelow wrote to the department's director of monetary research that the British managed to capture only about 150 million.

He said a reliable source in Italy had told him the Vatican held the rest and rumors were rife that much of that was later taken through a Vatican pipeline to Spain and Argentina.

Meawnwhile, other researchers said they had found documents showing that the Vatican City bank had substantial dealings with Swiss banks blacklisted by the Allies for doing business with Germany and its Axis partners.