JULY 21, 1997

Document says Vatican hid fascist gold

LOS ANGELES (Reuter) - The Vatican stored 200 million Swiss francs, mostly in gold coins, for Croatian fascists just after the Second World War to keep the money out of Allied hands, according to a previously classified U.S. document released Monday.

The October 1946 document, released by A&E Television Networks, marks 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.

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

Sources close to a probe launched by Jewish organizations trying to trace looting by the Nazis and their allies during the war called the document ``important and reliable.''

In it, Treasury Department official Emerson Bigelow writes the department's director of monetary research that pro-Nazi Croatian fascists removed about 350 million Swiss francs from Yugoslavia at the end of the war but the British managed to capture about 150 million.

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

Croatian fascist leader Ante Pavelic took refuge in those two countries after the war and was assassinated in Spain in 1957.

But Bigelow said he thought the rumors were a smokescreen and that the funds remained at the Vatican.