The "See Change" Broadside #2
April 3, 2001

Vatican Uses Claim to Statehood to Avoid Lawsuit

The Vatican Bank has asked a US court to throw out a lawsuit charging it with laundering gold and other assets stolen by a Nazi puppet regime, arguing that the Vatican has immunity from legal action because it is an independent state.

A class-action lawsuit brought in November 1999 accuses the Vatican Bank, along with the Franciscan Order and the Swiss National Bank, of laundering hundreds of millions of dollars in gold and other assets looted by Croatia's brutal Nazi-allied Ustasha regime from 1941-1945.

The lawsuit seeks restitution and an accounting of the looted assets. It also accuses the Vatican and other banks of helping to secretly transfer money from the Ustasha Treasury out of Yugoslavia, which was then used to help Croatian and Nazi war criminals escape Europe after the war.

Alperin v. Vatican Bank was originally filed in Federal Court in San Francisco in November 1999. The plaintiffs are concentration camp survivors of Serb, Jewish, and Ukrainian background and their relatives, as well as organizations representing over 300,000 Holocaust victims.

The plaintiffs seek an accounting and restitution of the Ustasha Treasury, which according to the US State Department, was illicitly transferred to the Vatican and other banks after the end of the war.

Named defendants currently include the Vatican Bank, the Franciscan Order, Swiss National Bank and the Croatian Liberation Movement. These defendants allegedly worked together to conceal assets looted by the Croatian Nazis from concentration camp victims, Serbs, Jews, Roma and others between 1941-1945.

In 1998, the US State Department issued a report implicating the Vatican in the 1945 disappearance of the Treasury of Croatia. The purpose of this lawsuit is to obtain a legal accounting of the missing funds, recover assets and distribute them to survivors and their descendants. Nobody knows exactly how much money is involved, but estimates have run from several hundred million dollars to sums as high as two billion dollars.

The Ustashi were the Croatian Nazis who ran the puppet state of Croatia between 1941 and 1945. After 1945, they fled Croatia with the help of the Vatican and others. The Ustashi continued terrorist activities from bases in Spain, Argentine, and the United States. Ustasha front organizations like the Croatian Liberation Movement were involved in a series of terrorist operations in the United States between 1976 and 1980, including an airline hijacking and several bombings in New York. Internationally, Croatian terrorists are alleged to have assassinated the Swedish Prime Minister, plotted the assassination of President Nixon and the Australian Prime Minister, and committed a string of crimes in Sweden, Germany, Australia, Paraguay, and many other countries.

The Vatican has repeatedly denied any participation in Ustasha crimes or the disappearance of the Croatian Treasury, yet has refused to open its wartime records despite requests from the US government, Jewish and Roma organizations. The Vatican has asked the US government to intervene in the lawsuit, prompting Jonathan Levy, one of the plaintiffs' lawyers, to say he hoped this meant the Vatican wanted to negotiate.

Elan Steinberg, executive director of the World Jewish Congress, said that the United States only got involved in similar lawsuits where the defendants have expressed a willingness to cooperate and reach a settlement. This is not the case with the Vatican, which so far has failed to open up its wartime archives and is using its dubious claim to statehood to avoid doing so.

Further information about this issue is available at Vatican Bank Claims

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