Australia’s financial crime watchdog conducts ‘detailed review’ of Vatican transfers

CNA 5cc74de454961 154686 The flag of Vatican City with St. Peter's Basilica in the background on April 29, 2019. | Bohumil Petrik/CNA.

Australia's financial crime watchdog said Thursday that it is conducting a "detailed review" of Vatican-linked transfers worth $1.8 billion.

The Australian Transaction Reports and Analysis Centre (AUSTRAC), a government agency, said Jan. 7 that it was seeking to shed light on the mystery transfers in cooperation with the Vatican.

"AUSTRAC is currently undertaking a detailed review of the figures and is working with the Holy See and Vatican City State Financial Intelligence Unit on this matter," the agency said in a statement to the Associated Press.

Reports of a money transfer from the Vatican to Australia date back to Oct. 2, when Italian media claimed that an alleged transfer was part of a dossier being compiled by Vatican investigators and prosecutors against Cardinal Angelo Becciu. 

During an Australian Senate committee hearing on Oct. 20, AUSTRAC chief executive Nicole Rose was asked about allegations that Church funds had been sent to Australia at the behest of Cardinal Becciu for the purposes of influencing Cardinal George Pell's trial on charges of sexual abuse.

Senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells asked Rose about the reports of transfers "allegedly from Vatican funds to a person or persons in Australia."

"Yes, I can confirm AUSTRAC has looked into the matter and we've provided information to the AFP [Australian Federal Police] and to Victoria Police," Rose told the Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee.

Becciu resigned from his curial position and gave up his rights as a cardinal on Sept. 24, reportedly in connection with multiple financial scandals dating back to his time as the second-ranking official at the Vatican's Secretariat of State. 

He has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing or any attempt to influence Pell's trial.

In October, Victoria Police said that it had no plans for a further investigation into reports of money transfers from the Vatican.  

"AUSTRAC has made Victoria Police aware of transfer of monies from the Vatican over a period of time to Australia," a police statement said.

"They have not advised Victoria Police of any suspicious activity related to these transactions. In the absence of any other evidence or intelligence, Victoria Police has noted the advice from AUSTRAC. We are not at this time conducting any further investigation."

Federal police confirmed in October that AUSTRAC had passed the information to them as "part of a routine exchange of financial intelligence."

"The AFP is undertaking a review of the relevant information. The AFP has concurrently referred aspects of this matter to the Victorian Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission," the federal police said.

The Australian newspaper reported in December that the transfers amounted to around $1.8 billion and were sent in about 47,000 separate transfers since 2014.

The Australian Catholic bishops said they had no knowledge of any Catholic dioceses, charities, or organizations in the country receiving the funds, and Vatican officials have also denied knowledge of the transfers, according to Reuters. 

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