In which country do criminal offences far outnumber residents?

The unexpected answer is the Vatican, where annual figures made public for the first time paint the tiny pontifical state as a veritable hotbed of crime.

The 2002 report revealed that there were 608 criminal proceedings and 397 civil proceedings during the year, the overwhelming majority of which related to thefts. In a state with just 455 inhabitants, this represents a ratio of 1.34 criminal offences for every inhabitant. However, most of the culprits were in fact among the millions of visitors who flock to the home of the Roman Catholic Church each year.

The majority of thefts took place in St Peters Basilica and in the Vatican Museums, but there were also robberies in shops and in the supermarket. In addition to thefts, there were a number of embezzlements, frauds, unpaid fines and offences against public officials, including the outlandishly-garbed Swiss Guard.

The inauguration of the judicial year at the Vatican was marked for the first time by a public reading of the annual report for the previous year. The step was seen as an attempt by the Holy See to increase the transparency of its judicial system after the bloody events of 1998, when, according to the Vatican, a Swiss Guard killed a colleague and his wife before committing suicide.