VATICAN CITY – Vatican police seized documents and electronics during searches Tuesday of the Holy See’s secretariat of state and financial watchdog agency after receiving official complaints about “past financial operations,” officials said.
The Vatican press office didn’t provide details about the search and seizures or the nature of the complaints that sparked them.
In a brief statement, the press office said the complaints “concerning past financial operations” arrived over the summer from the Vatican bank and auditor general’s office. It said the chief prosecutor at the Vatican’s criminal tribunal authorized the seizures.
They were believed to be the first at the secretariat of state, which coordinates the activities of the Holy See, functions as the seat of governance of the universal Catholic Church and oversees diplomatic relations with more than 180 nations.
For nearly a decade the Vatican has been trying to clean up its financial act by adhering to international anti-money laundering norms and reforming its bank, the Institute of Religious Works, after decades of accusations that it worked as an off-shore tax haven.
Key to the effort has been the creation of the Financial Information Authority, or AIF, which works as an internal financial watchdog and liaises with financial intelligence units of other countries to share information about suspect transactions. In addition to the secretariat of state, the AIF offices were searched Tuesday, the Vatican said.
Last year, the former IOR president went on trial at the Vatican’s criminal tribunal on charges he and his lawyer embezzled $68 million in Vatican real estate sales; the trial is ongoing.
At the same time, though, Vatican prosecutors have been criticized by Council of Europe evaluators for their slow pace in investigating and prosecuting suspect financial transactions that are referred to them. In the spring, the Vatican is scheduled to undergo a regularly scheduled on-site evaluation by the Council of Europe’s Moneyval evaluators to check its progress.
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