Pubdate: Sun, 28 Sep 2003
Source: San Jose Mercury News (CA)
Copyright: 2003 San Jose Mercury News
Author: John Rice, Associated Press


Money-Laundering Allegations Affect Vatican Finances

MEXICO CITY - The Mexican government is squabbling with the Roman Catholic
church over a money-laundering probe involving Cardinal Juan Sandoval of
Guadalajara, one of a handful of clerics who oversee Vatican finances.

The affair has drawn in a wealthy friend of Fidel Castro's, renewed allegations
of murder and coverup, and raised questions about the role and rights of the
church in a changing nation.

It pits the church against prosecutors in the government of President Vicente
Fox who, despite being divorced and remarried, is the most openly and devoutly
Catholic head of state Mexico has had in 140 years.

Sept. 11, the newspaper Reforma said the federal Attorney General's Office had
subpoenaed bank records of the cardinal and several of his relatives and
friends in a probe of possible money laundering. It published a photocopy of
the request for the records, listing names. Prosecutors confirmed only that an
investigation of the cardinal was under way.

Several Under Probe

Among those named were federal Congressman Fernando Guzman of Fox's National
Action Party; Jose Maria Guardia, a horse- and dog-track owner friendly with
the Cuban leader; as well as Sandoval, his late mother and a deceased cardinal.

With no charges filed, Mexican law bars prosecutors from giving details of
investigations. But the news media added a slew of leaked, anonymous hints and
speculation about what might be involved.

Church activists and clergy were outraged, and the archdiocese's Web site has
promoted a mass rally for the cardinal today in Guadalajara. Its magazine,
Semanario, has complained that the freezing of church accounts even blocked
movement of donations to the Vatican.

A statement by the Mexican bishops' conference defended Sandoval's ``integrity
and honor.'' It suggested the aim was to undermine Sandoval's efforts to prove
that an earlier cardinal, Juan Jesus Posadas Ocampo, was killed in 1993 to keep
him from revealing ties between drug traffickers and the government. If proved,
that could make Posadas eligible for sainthood as a martyr.

Repeated official investigations -- most recently by Fox's administration --
have rejected that theory.

One Of Two Cardinals

Sandoval, 70, is one of only two cardinals in the most populous of
Spanish-speaking Catholic nations. He also is a member of the office for
Economic Affairs of the Holy See, which oversees Vatican finances, and some
have raised his name as a possible pope.

The investigation touches a deep and at times violent historical divide between
religious and secular Mexicans that was thought to have ended with the election
in 2000 of Fox, who was from the business-minded wing of a party that also has
traditional ties to Catholic activists.

Even so, church leaders who had clearly welcomed Fox's arrival scolded him a
year later when the divorced president remarried. Sandoval and others were even
more irritated early this year when the Attorney General's Office said its
renewed investigation confirmed that Posadas probably had been killed by
accident in a shootout between drug gangs -- not murdered.

Fox himself was drawn into the uproar when he used a government helicopter to
fly Sandoval to a birthday party for the president's mother Sept. 21.

Sandoval told reporters that the president had discussed the case with him, but
Attorney General Rafael Macedo de la Concha insisted he was getting no
interference from above.
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