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The Vatican said on Monday that a senior Italian cardinal under investigation for loan-sharking and extortion had opened his own probe into the alleged wrongdoings.

"We have learned that Cardinal Michele Giordano, Archbishop of Naples, has decided to launch a preliminary investigation," Vatican chief spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls said in a statement.

The statement was issued after reporters asked whether an ecclesiastical investigation had been launched into the Giordano case -- which has strained relations between the Vatican and Italy.

Prosecutors in the southern port city of Naples have been investigating Cardinal Giordano since August on suspicion of complicity in loan-sharking, extortion and criminal association. His brother and several other Italians are also being investigated.

Cardinal Giordano has denied any wrongdoing and said he is guilty only of trying to help his cash-strapped brother, arrested last month as part of the same investigation.

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