Vatican’s financial watchdog highlights ‘increasing trend’ in reports to Promoter of Justice

Vatican City flag 3 waving over St Peters Square in Vatican City on May 28 2015 Credit Bohumil Petrik CNA 5 28 15 The Vatican flag. | Bohumil Petrik/CNA.

The Vatican’s financial watchdog authority reported Thursday that it received 89 suspicious activity reports in 2020, 16 of which it forwarded to the Promoter of Justice for possible prosecution.

In a 52-page annual report, released July 15, the Supervisory and Financial Information Authority (ASIF) said that the figures underlined “an increasing trend” in the proportion of reports sent onwards compared to the number received.

“As regards financial intelligence, in 2020 the Authority received 89 suspicious activity reports (SARs), 85 of which from the supervised entity, 2 from public authorities, 1 from a non-profit organization (NPO), and 1 from another entity,” the report said.

“It forwarded 16 reports to the Office of the Promoter of Justice (OPJ), of which 10 were first reports and 6 supplementary ones. This confirms an increasing trend in the proportion of reports sent and SARs received, demonstrating a steady improvement in the quality of SARs.”

The watchdog authority previously reported that it received 64 suspicious activity reports in 2019, 15 of which it forwarded to the Promoter of Justice.

Its latest report said that in 2020, 49 requests for information were exchanged with other Vatican authorities concerning 124 subjects, compared to 24 requests in 2019.

“This represents an important increase compared with the previous year, which confirms the considerable synergies created between the institutions of the Holy See and the Vatican City State in the fight against criminal activities,” it said.

The annual report disclosed that the AIF exchanged 58 requests for information with foreign financial intelligence units concerning 196 subjects, along with 19 “spontaneous communications” about 104 subjects.

The 2020 report noted that Pope Francis approved sweeping changes to the watchdog authority in December.

The pope ratified new statutes, as well as approving a new name for the agency created by Benedict XVI in 2010 to oversee Vatican financial transactions.

The body, which ensures that the Vatican complies with international financial standards, changed its name from the Financial Intelligence Authority (AIF) to the Supervisory and Financial Information Authority (ASIF).

In the new report’s introduction, Giuseppe Schlitzer said that the agency’s activity was “particularly intense” in 2020.

“The staff, who had to work remotely during the most acute phases of the pandemic, worked in a spirit of service and showed remarkable ability to adapt to a very exceptional situation,” he wrote.

“In the year under review, the staffing level, which was insufficient at the start of the year, increased significantly from 9 to 13 full-time employees, a number more in line with the authority’s workload.”

The new report noted that Moneyval, the Council of Europe’s anti-money laundering watchdog, carried out an on-site inspection of the Vatican in October 2020.

ASIF said that the latest Moneyval report, issued in June, gave the Vatican good effectiveness ratings. It presented charts suggesting that the Holy See/Vatican City State compared favorably with other jurisdictions in terms of its effectiveness in preventing and countering money laundering and terrorist financing.

“As a result of the assessment, the jurisdiction was placed in regular follow-up at the Moneyval Plenary, an outcome enjoyed by a limited number of countries, meaning that the next technical compliance assessment will take place in three years, and the next effectiveness assessment, with related on-site visit, in five years,” the report said.

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The approval of ASIF’s new statutes in December marked the end of a turbulent year for the agency. At the start of 2020, the authority was still suspended from the Egmont Group, through which 164 financial intelligence authorities worldwide share information and coordinate their work.

The agency was suspended from the group on Nov. 13, 2019, after Vatican gendarmes raided the offices of the Secretariat of State and the AIF. This was followed by the abrupt resignation of René Brülhart, the body’s high-profile president, and the appointment of Carmelo Barbagallo as his replacement.

Two prominent figures, Marc Odendall and Juan Zarate, then resigned from the AIF’s board of directors. Odendall said at the time that the AIF had been effectively rendered “an empty shell” and that there was “no point” remaining involved in its work.

The Egmont Group reinstated the AIF on Jan. 22, 2020. In April, Schlitzer was appointed director of the agency, succeeding Tommaso Di Ruzza, one of five officials suspended after the raid.

During an inflight press conference in November 2019, Pope Francis criticized the AIF under Di Ruzza, saying that “it was AIF that did not control, it seems, the crimes of others. And therefore [it failed] in its duty of controls. I hope that they prove it is not so. Because there is, still, the presumption of innocence.”

The Vatican announced earlier this month that Brülhart and Di Ruzza were among 10 people facing trial over allegations of financial impropriety.

Vatican prosecutors charged Di Ruzza with embezzlement, abuse of office, and violation of confidentiality, and Brülhart with abuse of office.

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Di Ruzza has asserted his innocence of the charges, as has Brülhart, who said that the trial would show “the truth about my innocence.”

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