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Vatican financial watchdog reports leap in queries on suspicious transfers

April 28, 2016

In its annual economic report for the year 2105, the Vatican's Financial Information Agency (AIF) reported a nearly fourfold increase in the number of suspicious transactions it investigated. 

René Brülhart, the AIF president, said that the sharp rise in the transactions being investigated showed tighter scrutiny, rather than an increase in questionable activity. As new regulations on financial transfers take effect, he said, there is a "rather low reporting threshold." A number of inquiries were also prompted by the closing of accounts at the Vatican bank and by new mutual-aid agreements with financial authorities in other countries.

There were 544 transactions that warranted inquiries in 2015, Brülhart reported. Of those, only 17 were referred to prosecutors for further investigation-- in most cases, for possible money-laundering charges. 

"I would like to see the figure zero," Brülhart told reporters, but he said that was unrealistic. "Wherever you have financial tranactions, financial activity, you always see something potentially suspicious," he explained.

The AIF was established by Pope benedict XVI in 2010, to monitor the financial activities of the Vatican and ensure compliance with international banking standards designed to curb money-laundering and the financing of terrorism. Brülhart said that he is confident none of the transfers targeted for scrutiny in 2015 involved the funding of terrorists. 

As for the Vatican's efforts to impose safeguards against money-laundering, the European watchdog Moneyval has expressed satisfaction with new standards established by AIF for Vatican financial affairs. However Moneyval has pressed the Vatican to prosecute offenders of the new standards, noting that no such prosecutions have yet taken place. 

In what appeared to be an unrelated development, Pope Francis visited the offices of the Secretariat for the Economy this morning, as part of his plan to make visits to all the offices of the Roman Curia. The Pontiff also visited the Administration of the Patrimony of the Apostolic See, so that his "tour" for the day was confined to agencies dealing with Vatican economic affairs.

 
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