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Vatican identified 15 suspect money laundering cases in 2019

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The Vatican’s financial watchdog said Friday it had turned over 15 suspect cases to prosecutors in 2019, part of ongoing efforts by Pope Francis to clean up the Holy See’s financial dealings.

The Financial Information Authority (AIF), an anti-money laundering body, said in an annual report it had received 64 “suspicious activity reports” in 2019 and subsequently forwarded 15 dossiers to the Vatican’s prosecutor’s office.

The cases mainly allege crimes of international fraud, including fiscal fraud and embezzlement, it said, adding that clearer guidelines on how to identify financial anomalies allowed it to better identify cases of misconduct.

The AIF was set up in 2010 and designed to prevent money laundering and terrorist financing, while lending transparency to operations by the Institute of Religious Works (IOR), which acts, among other roles, as the Vatican Bank.

The IOR, which has been embroiled in a series of political and financial scandals over the past few decades, handles the accounts of Vatican employees and clerics, religious congregations and diplomats affiliated with the Holy See.

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI (2005-2013) launched a clean-up of the authority during his papacy, continued by Pope Francis. To date, nearly 5,000 suspect bank accounts have been closed.

– Ongoing scandal –
As a preventative measure in 2019, three transactions totalling 240,000 euros ($270,000) were suspended, and one account worth approximately 179,000 euros was frozen, AIF said.

One suspicious activity report that was potentially connected to terrorist financing was ultimately abandoned after further analysis.

The AIF added that the 2019 annual report “confirmed a low level of FT (terrorist financing) risk.”

Last year was a turbulent one for AIF, which was itself caught up in an ongoing probe into the murky financing of a luxury London building with church funds, that led to a raid of its offices, the suspension of five Vatican employees and the resignation of the Vatican police chief.

The AIF’s president, Rene Brulhart, left his post in November after his contract was not renewed. He was replaced by Carmelo Barbagallo, a former top Bank of Italy official.

Pope Francis, who has made cleaning up the Church’s finances a key priority of his papacy, announced in June a new set of laws on awarding contracts, designed to boost transparency and stem corruption and nepotism.

On Tuesday, Vatican police raided a department tasked with maintaining St. Peter’s Basilica as part of a probe into potentially illegal dealings.

An evaluation of financial transparency reforms put in place by the Vatican will take place later this year by Moneyval, the anti-money-laundering monitoring body of the Council of Europe.

Agence France-Presse

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