20 Nov 2019
An international network of financial watchdogs has suspended the Vatican’s access to its information, dealing a major blow to the Vatican’s financial credibility under Pope Francis.
The Egmont Group, a Toronto-based network of more than 160 national financial intelligence units around the world, has decided to suspend the Vatican watchdog from access to its secure web system, through which members share information about money laundering, financing of terrorism, tax fraud and other financial crimes, according to people familiar with the matter.
The Vatican declined to comment on the Egmont Group’s move.
The move is the latest in a series of recent events to throw into question the efficacy of Pope Francis’ reform agenda, following his election in 2013 with a mandate to overhaul the Vatican’s management and its finances. European money-laundering watchdog Moneyval is scheduled to conduct an on-site evaluation of the Vatican next year.
Egmont informed the Vatican’s Financial Information Authority, or AIF, of the suspension last week, the people familiar with the matter said. AIF’s main functions are to prevent financial crimes at the Vatican and oversee the cleanup of the Vatican Bank, which has long been plagued by financial scandals.
AIF remains a member of the organization but won’t have access to its information-sharing network until it can show that it won’t share information on criminal investigations provided by other countries’ financial intelligence units without their authorization. Egmont’s confidence in AIF was shaken after Vatican police seized information from the regulator during an investigation of a financial scandal, the people said.
Egmont’s policies require members to exchange information through channels that “ensure levels of security, reliability and effectiveness at least equivalent to those of the Egmont Secure Web.”
News of the Egmont suspension came the day after the Vatican unexpectedly announced that Pope Francis was replacing his top financial regulator, AIF President René Brülhart, prompting a member of the regulator’s board to resign in protest.
Marc Odendall, a French German banker, resigned on Monday from the board of AIF, saying that the pope’s decision to dismiss Mr. Brülhart showed that the Vatican didn’t intend to address Egmont’s concerns.
“There is no point in staying on the board of an ineffective organization,” Mr. Odendall said.
By Francis X. Rocca, The Wall Street Journal, 19 November 2019
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