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Vatican financial overseers report decline in suspicious activity

May 16, 2017

The Vatican’s Financial Information Authority (AIF) reported 202 suspicious financial transactions at Vatican institutions in 2016, and referred 22 cases to Vatican prosecutors. But to date no prosecutions have been announced by the Vatican.

At a Mary 16 press conference, the AIF presented a statistical account of its work for the year, noting a sharp decrease in the amount of suspicious activity. (In 2015, the AIF had reported 544 questionable transactions.) René Brulhart, the president of the AIF, attributed the trend to increased vigilance and cooperation with other jurisdictions in tracing financial transactions.

“In 2016, AIF has seen a significant increase of bilateral cooperation with competent authorities of other jurisdictions and will continue to be an active partner to combat illicit financial activities globally,” Brulhart said. During the year the AIF reached agreement to for the exchange of information with authorities in Austria, Brazil, Canada, Italy, Poland, and Russia. The Vatican office had already struck agreements with 25 other countries, including the US, United Kingdom, France, Germany, Switzerland, Spain, Australia, and Argentina. The number of cases involving cooperation with foreign prosecutors has increased steadily, the AIF reported: from 81 cases in 2013 to 113 in 2014, 380 in 2015, and 837 last year.

Despite the apparent decline in suspicious activity, AIF officials emphasized the need to continue tightening standards for financial disclosure, in order to guard against increasingly sophisticated means of money-laundering. The AIF was established by Pope Benedict XVI in 2010 in order to monitor Vatican financial transactions, helping to bring the Vatican into compliance with stringent new international standards for fighting money-laundering and the financing of terrorism.

The AIF reported that the suspicious activites uncovered in 2016 led to the suspension of several transactions, and the freezing of one account at the Vatican bank, with $1.5 million impounded. These figures, too, represented a decline from the previous year, when four accounts were frozen.

The AIF has earned high grades from European banking regulators for its work in ensuring financial transparency. However, the regulators called for a more aggressive approach to prosecuting transgressions. In a December 2015 evaluation, the European agency Moneyval said that the Vatican “needs to deliver some real results on the prosecutorial side.” The failure to announce any prosecutions since that time, therefore, could become a point of contention in future evaluations.

 
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