August 3, 1997

Vol.4, No.31 Page 18

Vatican: Report on gold has 'no basis in reality'


VATICAN CITY—The Vatican on July 22 denied a report that it stored $130 million, mostly in gold coins, for fleeing Croatian fascists after World War II.

"These reports have no basis in reality," chief Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls said in a statement.

An internal U.S. Treasury Department memo kept secret for 50 years, dated October 1946 and made public July 21 by an American cable-TV network, said the proNazi Croatian Ustasha removed about $230 million from Yugoslavia amid the collapse of Hitler's Germany.

In the document, U.S. Treasury agent Emerson Bigelow wrote to his superior, Harold Glasser, the department's director of monetary research, that the British had seized about $87 million.

He said that a reliable source in Italy told him the Vatican held the rest, and that rumors were rife that much of it later went via a Vatican pipeline to Spain and Argentina.

Ustasha leaderAnte Pavelic took refuge in those two countries after the war and was assassinated in Spain in 1957.

The Vatican said the allegations were based on flimsy evidence.

"The information, which is without any documentation, is only based on 'a reliable source in Italy' which, even if it existed, remains unidentified," the papal spokesman said.

In Washington, President Clinton said the Treasury Department is reviewing its documents to determine the extent to which the Vatican may have held money taken from Nazi victims during World War II.

"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," Mr. Clinton told reporters at the White House.

If the 200 million Swiss francs were still held today, it would be valued at about $170 million, plus hundreds of millions more in accumulated interest.

"We'll keep working on this until we do everything we can to make it right," Mr. Clinton said.

A&E, the cable television network, said it came across the Bigelow memo during research for a two-hour documentary, "Blood Money: Switzerland's Nazi Gold," which aired July 26.

It is among 15 million U.S. documents related to the safekeeping of Nazi-plundered gold, mostly by Swiss banks. New details of the scandal continue to emerge as researchers pore over the trove, but the Bigelow memo marks the first time the Vatican has been mentioned in connection with gold looted by the Nazis or their allies.

The program also detailed shipments of gold ingots by the fascist Romanian government to Swiss banks to keep from the Allies and dealings of the secretive Bank of International Settlement, run by American Thomas McKittrick, which A&E producer Gaylen Ross said laundered gold for the Nazis in Switzerland.

The Ustasha, which controlled Croatia during the war, exterminated hundreds of thousands of Serbs, Jews and Gypsies at death camps during World War II, and historians have denounced the Vatican for having kept ties to it.

A Croatian cardinal was convicted by the postwar Yugoslav Communist government of abetting war crimes.