Pope names financial supervisor president of watchdog authority

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Pope Francis Wednesday appointed an auditor and Italian banking consultant as president of the Financial Information Authority (AIF), the Vatican's internal financial watchdog.

Carmelo Barbagallo, 63, is a consultant in the areas of banking, financial supervision, and the Single Supervisory Mechanism. He was previously head of the banking and financial supervision department of the Bank of Italy.

The appointment comes as the Vatican's financial watchdog is struggling to assert its credibility. The previous president of the AIF, René Brüelhart, resigned his position Nov. 18.

Although the Vatican press office characterized the departure as the end of "a five year term," Brüelhart had not been appointed for a fixed period, and he made it clear he had resigned.

Shortly thereafter, Marc Odendall, a member of the AIF board, resigned as well, saying that the Egmont Group, through which 164 financial intelligence authorities share information and coordinate their work, had suspended the AIF.

Odendall told the Associated Press that the AIF had been effectively rendered "an empty shell" and that there was "no point" in remaining involved in its work.   

On Oct. 1, Vatican gendarmes raided the offices of the Secretariat of State and the AIF.

Subsequently, a total of five employees and officials were suspended and blocked from entering the Vatican, including Tommaso Di Ruzza, the director of the AIF.

Aboard the papal plane from Tokyo to Rome Nov. 26, Pope Francis confirmed that Di Ruzza is still suspended, despite a press release from the AIF last month that affirmed the agency's full confidence in him and expressed hope that the matter would be "clarified soon."

Di Ruzza was suspended because of suspected "bad administration," the pope said, adding 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."

On the papal flight, the pope was also questioned about wider issues facing the AIF, which was recently suspended by the Egmont Group, through which 164 financial intelligence authorities share information and coordinate their work.

While the concerns of the Egmont Group were "a bit disturbing," Francis said, the group is not an official international body and issues of sovereignty had to be considered.

Egmont is a "private group," the pope noted, adding that "MONEYVAL will carry out the scheduled inspection for the first months of the next year, it will do it."

Barbagallo, who was born in Catania in Sicily, has worked for the Bank of Italy since 1980.

During his military service he worked in Italy's Guardia di Finanza (Finance Guard) before continuing to work in economics and financial security.

"I am honored to have received this appointment, aware of the full weight of the moral and professional responsibility it carries," Barbagallo told Vatican News Nov. 27.

He said he will bring his 40 years of experience in the areas of banking, finance, and supervision of the European banking system, adding that he believes "the AIF will be able to give its own contribution in its role as a supervisory authority, so that the fundamental values of fairness and transparency of all the financial movements in which the Holy See is engaged may continue to be affirmed and recognized."

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"I intend to reassure the international system of financial information that all cooperation will be given in full respect of the best international standards," he said.

The AIF was established by Benedict XVI in 2010 to oversee suspicious financial transactions; it is charged with ensuring that Vatican banking policies comply with international financial standards.

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