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Rome prosecutors' probe led to credit-card freeze at Vatican

Money-laundering investigation sparked stoppage

07 January, 18:22
Rome prosecutors' probe led to credit-card freeze at Vatican (ANSA) - Rome, January 7 - An investigation by Rome prosecutors into an alleged money-laundering case led to the freeze on January 1 of credit-card transactions at the Vatican, sources said Monday.

The freeze, which has made international headlines and worried tourists, has meant that visitors to the Vatican's museums and shops must now pay cash.

The Bank of Italy suspended bank-card payments in the Vatican city state over its failure to fully implement international anti-money laundering standards.

In late December, the central bank denied Deutsche Bank Italy, the Vatican's former provider of electronic payment services, a permit because of the Vatican's shortcomings in financial controls and oversight.

Now, it appears the tipping point that triggered this action was a Roma prosecutor's investigation of possible money-laundering in 2010 at the Vatican's bank, also known as the Institute for Religious Works (IOR).

The Holy See has been trying without success to join the 'white list' of states that meet international standards on combating money laundering and the financing of terrorism.

Last July, the Council of Europe's Moneyval department said in a report that the Holy See had made progress on financial transparency, but added that more reforms were needed.

Soon after, the Holy See appointed a Swiss expert, Rene' Bruelhart, to work on Anti-Money Laundering and Financing of Terrorism (AML/CFT) activities and strengthen the Holy See's framework to fight financial crimes.

In the past there have been allegations that the IOR was used to launder money, most notably by 'God's Banker' Roberto Calvi, whose body was found hanging under Blackfriar's Bridge in London in 1982, a suspected victim of the Mafia.

IOR was also named in kickbacks probes stemming from the 1990 collapse of public-private chemicals colossus Enimont, part of the Clean Hands investigations that swept away Italy's old political establishment.

More recently, there has been a series of Italian TV reports and a best-selling book claiming to show how individuals have used IOR to squirrel away money, dodging Italian regulations.