The Vatican Bank has started a civil action before the Maltese judicial authorities against various third parties it has accused of causing "significant" damages in relation to investment transactions.

The bank, known formally as the Institute for the Works of Religion (IOR), instituted the action against four companies and two individuals following transactions in which it said it had participated. Two of the companies have Maltese directors.

Details about the case, revealed in a statement, issued by the Vatican's press office, are still sparse, but a Vatican spokesman told Times of Malta the issue dates back to the beginning of 2013 for investments initially worth €17 million. However, the damages have to be quantified by the Maltese courts.

"This action shows the bank's willingness to accept responsibility for past abuses," spokesman Greg Burke added.

"This initiative confirms IOR' s commitment, in the interest of transparency, to report to the competent authorities any potential abuses perpetrated against it and to take, as in this instance, any appropriate action to protect its financial and reputational interests, including outside of the Vatican City State."

The Vatican press office said it had nothing more to add at this stage.

Reuters reported that according to a source close to the matter, the Vatican bank invested tens of millions of euros in funds in Malta and other countries in 2012 and 2013 when the bank was without a president.

In May, 2012, the board of the bank ousted Italian Ettore Gotti Tedeschi by a no confidence vote. The bank was without a head until February of the next year, when German Ernst von Freyberg was appointed.

As part of his clean up operation, the new president stopped participation in various funds, which the source said Freyberg considered "dodgy" and with unsafe underlying assets.

Some of the money was recovered, but much was lost and the bank took write-downs on the bad investments to get them off the books, the source said. 

Since the 2013 election of Pope Francis, the IOR has closed thousands of accounts as part of a major clean-up of the bank, which had been embroiled in many Italian financial and international scandals in previous decades.

Magistrates in both the Vatican and Italy found that the bank, which is supposed to serve Vatican employees, Church officials and religious orders of priests and nuns, had been used by outsiders to either launder money or evade taxes.

The IOR is currently headed by Frenchman Jean-Baptiste Douville de Franssu, who succeeded Freyberg in 2014 and has been continuing the reforms. 

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