AUSTRAC reviewing data on Vatican money transfers
08 Jan 2021

The Australian government’s financial intelligence agency is reviewing its data after questions were raised about its report that $US1.8 billion ($2.3 billion) were transferred from the Vatican to Australia over six years.

The agency, AUSTRAC, said it was working with the Vatican to get to the bottom of the matter. The Vatican confirmed it was in contact with AUSTRAC regarding “an examination of the data that it [AUSTRAC] provided in recent days”.

AUSTRAC listed the annual transactions since 2014 in response to a parliamentary inquiry without providing any details about senders or recipients. The agency monitors financial transactions to identify money laundering, organised crime, tax evasion, welfare fraud and terrorism financing.

The data raised eyebrows in Australia and the Holy See, given the number of transfers and amounts that appeared to be greatly out of line with the Vatican’s financial reality. It also fuelled media speculation that money from the Holy See helped influence the Australian criminal prosecution of Cardinal George Pell, who was convicted and then acquitted of historical sex abuse.

“AUSTRAC is currently undertaking a detailed review of the figures and is working with the Holy See and Vatican City State Financial Intelligence Unit on this matter,” the agency said in response to a query from The Associated Press.

A senior Vatican official and an Australian bishop told Reuters last week they had no knowledge of the transfers and would be seeking clarification.

Vatican officials have expressed perplexity at the reported transfers. The amounts greatly exceed the finances of the Holy See, the government of the Catholic Church. It runs on an annual budget of around Ђ300 million euros ($473 million) – less than the amount reported to have been sent to Australia in a single year.

The Vatican City State has one bank, with total client assets of Ђ5.1 billion. Two-thirds of those assets are held in managed portfolios that belong to the bank’s 15,000 clients, most of them religious orders, Vatican employees, Holy See offices and embassies around the world.

By Nicole Winfield, The Sydney Morning Herald, 8 January 2021

Read more at The Sydney Morning Herald

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