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Report: Australia’s financial crime watchdog says it vastly overestimated Vatican transfers

Australian flag Credit Rob Wilson Shutterstock CNA Rob Wilson/Shutterstock.

Australia’s financial crime watchdog has said that it vastly overestimated Vatican transfers, local media reported on Wednesday.

The Australian newspaper said on Jan. 13 that the Australian Transaction Reports and Analysis Centre (AUSTRAC), a government agency, attributed the miscalculation to a “computer coding error.”

According to the newspaper, AUSTRAC informed Australia’s Senate that it had discovered the mistake after it launched a “detailed review” of its initial finding that around $1.8 billion had been transferred from the Vatican to Australia in about 47,000 separate transfers since 2014.

Working with the Vatican’s Supervisory and Financial Information Authority (ASIF), AUSTRAC found that there were 362 transfers from the Vatican to Australia between 2014 and 2020, amounting to $7.4 million.

The agency also concluded that over the past six years there were 237 transfers totaling $20.6 million in the other direction: from Australia to the Vatican.

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AUSTRAC had originally believed that $90.9 million was sent from Australia to the Vatican in this period.

A statement issued by the Holy See press office on Jan. 13 said: “The Holy See takes note of the results of the audit requested by it, carried out jointly by ASIF and AUSTRAC, and of the considerable discrepancy reported today by an Australian newspaper, regarding the data previously disclosed about the financial transactions made by the Vatican to Australia between 2014 and 2020: 9.5 million against 2.3 billion Australian dollars [7.4 million against 1.8 billion US dollars].”

“The figure is attributable, among other things, to some contractual obligations and the ordinary management of its resources. On this occasion, the Holy See reaffirms its respect for the institutions of the country and expresses satisfaction for the collaboration between the Holy See and Australia.”

The Australian reported that AUSTRAC was, however, continuing to investigate suspicious transfers from the Vatican to Australia.

“AUSTRAC reaffirmed its confidence in the original financial intelligence about suspicious money transfers, which are being probed by Vatican prosecutors examining hundreds of millions of dollars in fraud and money laundering,” the newspaper said.

It added that Australian Federal Police and the Vatican’s financial intelligence unit were investigating four transfers to Australia from the Vatican. 

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It said that two of the transfers were connected to Cardinal Angelo Becciu. A total of $1.5 million was reportedly sent to a company in Melbourne between 2017 and 2018.

Reports of suspicious money transfers from the Vatican to Australia date back to October, when Italian media reported that an alleged transfer was part of a dossier being compiled by Vatican investigators and prosecutors against 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. 

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

In October, Victoria Police said that they 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.”

The Australian newspaper reported in December that AUSTRAC believed that it had discovered around 47,000 Vatican-linked transfers amounting to approximately $1.8 billion.

Australia’s bishops said that they had no knowledge of any Catholic dioceses, charities, or organizations in the country receiving the funds. Vatican officials also denied knowledge of the transfers, according to Reuters. 

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