Vatican letting fraudsters get away: report

A European body that combats money laundering and terrorist financing on Tuesday told the Vatican to start prosecuting people found to have used its scandal-hit bank and asset management body for criminal ends.

Vatican letting fraudsters get away: report
The Vatican bank is once again under scrutiny. Photo: Gabriel Buoys/AFP

In its latest update on the Holy See's efforts to clean up its murky finances, the Council of Europe 's Moneyval committee concludes that the Vatican has, in the last three years, addressed most of the structural weaknesses at the Institute for Religious Works (IOR), the official title of the bank.

But it voiced surprise that no indictments or prosecutions had been launched, despite some 4,800 suspect accounts having been closed down since 2012, some 30 reports handed to prosecutors and 29 money laundering investigations launched since 2010 and €11 million ($12 million) in funds frozen.

“There is a need now for the anti-money laundering and counter terrorist financing system to deliver effective results in terms of prosecutions, convictions and confiscation,” Moneyval said in a statement.

Council of Europe secretary general Thorbjorn Jagland welcomed the Vatican's progress but added: “I urge its authorities to take into account Moneyval's recommendations and to deliver some real results in the money laundering investigations being conducted.”

Journalists on trial

Moneyval's call came as the Vatican faces criticism for pursuing the prosecution of three former officials and two journalists over the leaking of classified documents which detail irregularities, extravagance and mismanagement in Church spending.

The trial, in which the defendants face prison terms of up to eight years, is due to resume in the New Year with one of the accused, a Spanish priest, currently detained in a Vatican cell.

The Vatican first submitted itself to the Moneyval evaluation procedure five years ago in a bid to draw a line under serial scandals linked to the IOR.

The most famous of these centred on the 1982 death of Italian banker Roberto Calvi, whose corpse was discovered hanging from Blackfriars Bridge in London in what prosecutors believe was a mafia killing linked to money laundering via the Vatican bank.

It emerged 30 years after Calvi's death that the Vatican still had no idea of the identity of thousands of IOR account holders and that some accounts were held by people with no apparent connection to the Church or its charitable works.

Others contained secret slush funds used for off-the-books spending by Vatican departments, according to books published recently by the two journalists currently on trial.

'Monsignor 500'

Moneyval said an internal review of the accounts, which has accelerated under Pope Francis, “appears to have been a success”.

The Church's own Financial Intelligence Authority (FIA) carried out a full inspection of the IOR in 2014 and drew up a remedial action plan which was now being followed up closely, it said.

It was more equivocal about progress on the Administration of the Patrimony of the Holy See (APSA), the body which manages billions of euros worth of real estate and stocks owned by the Church, saying some ad hoc inspections had taken place and that a full evaluation was due to be completed by the end of the year.

Two IOR accounts closed down in 2013 were held in the name of a former senior APSA official, Nunzio Scarano, who is now on trial for money laundering in Italy.

Dubbed “Monsignor 500” by the Italian press because of his alleged fondness for doing business in €500 notes, Scarano is accused of trying to smuggle €20 million from Switzerland into Italy.

The Vatican has launched two separate probes into suspected past criminal activity at APSA but there has been no indication of either case coming to trial.

Moneyval recommended that the Vatican City authorities should ensure that the micro-state's police and judicial systems had the capacity to handle complex investigations and bring cases to court. The Holy See was asked to issue an update on progress by December 2017.

Most observers say Francis has actively pushed efforts to clean up Church finances, notably by abolishing banking secrecy obstacles to the probe of the IOR and by putting a lay expert on financial crime, Swiss Lawyer Rene Brulhart, in charge of the FIA.

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Pope calls for a quicker vaccine rollout in Italy’s Easter Sunday message

Pope Francis proclaimed vaccines an "essential tool" in ending the pandemic in his Easter Sunday address and urged their swift rollout to the world's poorest countries.

Pope calls for a quicker vaccine rollout in Italy's Easter Sunday message
Pope Francis delivers his Urbi et Orbi Blessing, after celebrating Easter Mass on April 04, 2021 at St. Peter's Basilica in The Vatican during the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic. (Photo by Filippo MONTEFORTE / POOL / AFP)

On the holiest holiday for the world’s 1.3 billion Catholics and the second under the shadow of the coronavirus crisis, the Pope focused his message on the world’s most vulnerable – the sick, migrants, people facing economic hardship, and those living in war zones like Syria, Yemen and Libya.

“The pandemic is still spreading, while the social and economic crisis remains severe, especially for the poor,” the 84-year-old Argentine said, speaking to a congregation of only around 100 people inside the vast St. Peter’s Basilica.

“Vaccines are an essential tool in this fight,” he said, calling on the international community to overcome delays in distributing vaccines, “especially in the poorest countries”.

READ ALSO: Children lead the way in Italy’s reduced Good Friday service

Francis, who has focused on the plight of vulnerable groups since becoming pope in 2013, had already warned rich nations against vaccine hoarding in an address to the UN General Assembly in September.

The pope said it was “scandalous” that armed conflicts around the world had not ceased. He called for an end to the war in Syria, “where millions of people are presently living in inhumane conditions”, and in Yemen “whose situation has met with a deafening and scandalous silence”.

A deserted St. Peter’s Square in The Vatican, after the Pope’s Easter Mass and Urbi et Orbi blessing during the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic. (Photo by Filippo MONTEFORTE / AFP)

He also expressed his closeness to Myanmar’s youth – “committed to supporting democracy” – called for dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians, and urged an end to violence in Africa, citing Nigeria, the Sahel, Northern Ethiopia’s Tigray region and Cabo Delgado in Mozambique.

“There are still too many wars and too much violence in the world,” Francis said, adding that April 4th marked an awareness day against landmines, “insidious and horrible devices”.

An Easter message in Lockdown before a key month in Italy

The Pope’s Easter “Urbi et Orbi” (To the city and the world) message in the Vatican came as 60 million Italians spent the Easter holiday under lockdown.

The whole of Italy, the first country in Europe to have been hit by the coronavirus, has been declared a high-risk “red zone” from Saturday through Monday, with restrictions on movement and restaurants closed along with non-essential retail.

READ ALSO: Covid-19: What can you do this Easter in lockdown Italy?

Despite the gloom, there have been hopeful signs that vaccinations are gaining pace in Italy, while infection rates dipped in late March – although emergency rooms remain under enormous strain.

April is set to be a crucial month for Italy’s vaccine rollout, with authorities hoping to administer 300,000 doses per day within two weeks, according to the country’s coronavirus commissioner, General Francesco Paolo Figliuolo.

Three regions, including that of Veneto, which includes Venice, are also preparing to slightly loosen their anti-coronavirus rules from Tuesday onwards, passing from the most restrictive “red” zone to “orange”.