Australian federal police find no criminal misconduct in mysterious Vatican transfers

shutterstock_1822920662.jpg The flags of Australia and the Vatican. Credit: elic via Shutterstock.

The Australian Federal Police said on Wednesday that it had found no evidence of criminal misconduct in its investigation into money transfers from the Vatican to Australia.

Australian authorities have been investigating the suspicious payments, equivalent to about $7.4 million, for several months.

The federal police (AFP) said in a statement on Feb. 3 that “no criminal misconduct has been identified to date.”

“If the AFP receives additional information from Australian or international partners it will be reviewed accordingly,” it said.

Local media reported last month that investigators had been unable to account for around $1.9 million in transfers from the Vatican to Australia, but that $5.4 million had been identified as being used for legitimate expenses, such as travel, wages, and pension payments.

A week before that, on Jan. 13, Australia’s financial crime watchdog said that it had vastly overestimated the Vatican transfers, attributing the miscalculation to a “computer coding error.”

According to The Australian newspaper, the Australian Transaction Reports and Analysis Centre (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 only 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.

The Vatican issued a statement on Jan. 13 acknowledging AUSTRAC’s error, and stating that the $7.4 million in payments “is attributable, among other things, to a number of contractual obligations and the ordinary management of resources.”

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 the Italian 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 Becciu’s behest to influence Cardinal George Pell’s trial on charges of sexual abuse.

Rose told the Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee that “AUSTRAC has looked into the matter and we’ve provided information to the AFP [Australian Federal Police] and to Victoria Police.” 

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 attempt to influence the trial of Cardinal George Pell, the former prefect of the Vatican Secretariat for the Economy, which began in 2018. 

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