Michelangelo as collateral

The Italian Auditor General is investigating three of the world's leading ratings agencies for issuing damaging credit downgrades against the country.

Three of the world's foremost ratings agencies — Standard & Poor's, Moody's and Fitch — could end up owing Italy between 117-billion and 234-billion euros ($175 billion to $350 billion), according to February reports by British newspaper The Guardian and French business newspaper Les Échos.

The Italian auditor general has launched an investigation against the three agencies, claiming they were unjustified in issuing a series of credit downgrades against the country. The agencies would not have done so, the auditor general said, if they had taken into account the country's cultural and artistic legacy, which forms the basis of its wealth. The obvious question is: how do you rate the Sistine Chapel, which the Vatican reportedly values in its financial statements at a symbolic $1?

Standard & Poor's responded that the claim, if pursued, "would be frivolous and without value," according to Les Échos.