With the Vatican bank's involvement in the recent Banco Ambrosiano scandal still making headlines, this ""account of a...



With the Vatican bank's involvement in the recent Banco Ambrosiano scandal still making headlines, this ""account of a billion dollar counterfeit stock deal between the Mafia and the Church"" a decade ago gets points for timing. But that's about all, despite its bombshell pretensions. Hammer's tale, in a nutshell, is this: in 1971--when the Vatican's treasury was reeling from bad investments made by Bishop Marcinkus, the American-born chief of the Vatican bank--the late Cardinal Tisserant (then dean of the college of cardinals) and an unnamed aide approached Leopold Ledl, an Austrian swindler, about supplying $950 million in counterfeit securities to pad the Church's balance sheet; Ledl turned to some US contacts, including alleged Mafia figures Vincent Rizzo and Matteo de Lorenzo; a $14.5 million ""sample"" package was delivered to the Vatican, then taken back by Ledl's crew of freelance swindlers while the Church tried to raise $6 million in real money to pay for it; some of the ""sample"" securities surfaced in Europe thereafter, and most just vanished. Almost everyone involved landed in jail, though for scums unrelated to the Vatican deal; and there's no evidence that the Church ended up with any of the ""sample"" phony paper, let alone the ballyhooed ""billion."" Though he provides a close-up of the international trade in stolen and counterfeit securities, Hammer's interweaving of various complex swindles and haphazard chronology make for confusing reading. And his Vatican hook doesn't really catch: evidence of the ""connection"" is slim at best--a con-man's reports of conversations with a now-deceased cardinal and an unnamed aide; a few shady priests with a taste for the good life; and double-hearsay about Bishop Marcinkus' involvement. Marcinkus, in particular, is tarred heavily with the guilt-by-association brush (he was a friend of Michele Sindona, etc.), and though in the aftermath of Bunco Ambrosiano his career may well deserve close scrutiny he is, on the facts, unfairly Hammered here. Flashy--and disappointing.

Pub Date: Sept. 24, 1982


Page Count: -

Publisher: Holt, Rinehart, Winston

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1982