Vatican Makes Gains In Cracking Down on Money Laundering

More than $13 million has been frozen since 2013, and 17 investigations are ongoing. But critics lament that there has not been a single indictment, and are pushing for more aggressive prosecutions.

Vatican officials froze more than 2 million euros ($2.12 million) in cases suspected of being linked to money laundering in 2016.

The move is part of the Holy See’s drive to clean up its finances, as mandated by Pope Francis.

The latest disclosure from chief magistrate Gian Pietro Milano, whose official title is Promoter of Justice, came during his annual address on the state of the Vatican’s criminal justice system.

Milano’s speech was short on details, but he added that since 2013 a total of 13 million euros was frozen.

The freezing of money followed alerts from the Vatican Financial Intelligence Authority (AIF), which the pope has given enhanced powers.

Milano didn’t reveal how much of the money was subsequently unblocked, following investigations, but he said that last year two cases led to indictments while three were shelved.

The Vatican, a sovereign state surrounded by Rome, has, in recent years, enacted a number of provisions to clean up its finances and make them more transparent, particularly since Francis’ election in 2013.

The Council of Europe’s financial monitoring body Moneyval said in its latest review in December 2015 that the Vatican had done a lot to clean up its scandal-plagued bank and other financial departments.

The watchdog agency, which evaluates how a country’s financial legislation and practices comply with international standards, said the Vatican had addressed many of its entrenched deficiencies.

Investigations but no indictments

But it said the Vatican still lags when it comes to prosecutions and indictments and called on the Holy See to be much more aggressive in those areas.

An investigation was opened in late 2015 after an internal report found a department of the Holy See that oversees real estate and investments was used in the past for possible money laundering, insider trading and market manipulation.

In 2014, Milano froze millions of euros in bank accounts owned by two former Vatican bank managers and a lawyer as part of an investigation into the sale of Vatican-owned real estate.
But so far there have not been any indictments in those cases.

During his speech on Saturday, Milano said the Vatican had “closed the gap” with regards to meeting international monitoring standards, reporting, investigating and prosecutions.

He added that there are currently 17 investigations into suspected financial crimes.

Investigative cooperation from other countries, particularly Italy, had improved but that there were still many bureaucratic delays, he said.

Last year the AIF said it closed nearly 5,000 suspect accounts as part of a three-year examination of the once murky Vatican bank – known as the Institute of Religious Works (IOR).

The IOR became notorious around the world because of a 1980s scandal centered on the death of banker Roberto Calvi, whose corpse was discovered hanging under Blackfriars bridge in London.

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