European assessors warn that the Vatican’s efforts to investigate and prosecute financial crimes suffer from understaffing and inexperience.
ROME, Italy – European assessors warned on Wednesday that the Vatican’s efforts to investigate and prosecute financial crimes suffered from understaffing and inexperience, as well as the mistaken belief that its own cardinals and bishops were in the making. safe from any criminal behavior.
The Council of Europe’s Moneyval Commission has published a long report on the Holy See’s compliance with international standards in the fight against money laundering and the financing of terrorism. Overall, the evaluators gave the Holy See good marks, believing that it complied with most standards, had taken steps to improve its laws and had achieved effective levels of international cooperation.
But evaluators complained that Vatican prosecutors had only succeeded in bringing to justice a handful of money laundering cases in the past decade. They said the long time it takes to achieve both a charge and a conviction shows only “modest” functioning of the justice system, and warned that the sentences handed down to date were so “minimal” that they had no deterrent value.
And most critically, the report strongly criticized the Holy See for ignoring the possibility that its own employees could abuse their offices and the Vatican’s financial system for their own personal gain. They said their assessment process could not be completed until the Vatican undertook a “comprehensive assessment” of insider risk and strengthened its own oversight of staff to detect possible crimes.
The Holy See said it welcomes the report, “renews its commitment to continue working for full compliance” and will carefully consider Moneyval’s recommendations.
The head of the Vatican’s financial intelligence authority, Carmelo Barbagallo, noted that few other countries are receiving such positive ratings and said he considers the lack of any “low efficiency” to be a success.
The report was released as part of a two-year criminal investigation into the Vatican Secretary of State’s 350 million euros ($ 425 million) investment in a London real estate deal that involved half – a dozen Vatican employees and a handful of outside Italian brokers who are accused of stealing tens of millions of euros in fees from the Holy See.
No indictment has been issued, although the report says a trial is expected to begin this summer. The investigation found that senior officials in the Secretary of State – as well as Pope Francis – were aware of the deal and approved it, but to date no investigation is underway.
Moneyval’s assessment ended before Francis took action to address one of the key shortcomings noted by the report: that cardinals and bishops were given virtual immunity from prosecution by the court. of the Vatican.
On April 30, Francis removed procedural hurdles and made it clear that prosecutors only needed his consent to conduct investigations against cardinals and bishops.
The Vatican submitted to the Moneyval valuation process after signing the 2009 EU Monetary Convention and in a bid to shed its image as a financially shady tax haven in which the bank has long been embroiled in a scandal .
After its first on-site assessment in 2012, the Vatican received passing grades, but subsequent progress reports have repeatedly criticized Vatican prosecutors for failing to actually file complaints in many cases of suspicious transactions.
Wednesday’s Moneyval report reiterated that complaint, saying the Vatican prosecutor’s office and the office of the Vatican’s financial intelligence unit were understaffed to handle the workload. He also said the staff at the Vatican’s disposal were inexperienced in investigating and prosecuting complex financial transactions and crimes.
While some delays were due to slow responses from other countries, Moneyval criticized prosecutors for sitting on cases, waiting for convictions of suspects elsewhere and said they needed to set goals for carrying cases. in justice.
The evaluators also criticized the Vatican for relying on part-time prosecutors who also practice law in Italy, warning that they may have conflicts of interest and recommending that they devote themselves full-time to Vatican affairs.
Assessors also strongly contested the October 1, 2019 raid on the Vatican’s financial intelligence unit, which was cleared by the Pope and marked the first public disclosure of the London property case investigation. Vatican gendarmes seized computers and files, including confidential documents provided by other countries to the Holy See to aid the global fight against financial crimes.
Following the unprecedented raid, the Egmont group of national financial intelligence units suspended the Vatican from its confidential information-sharing network for two months, until Vatican prosecutors agree never to proceed again. to such an unexpected seizure.
According to details of the deal in the report, if Vatican prosecutors need such information in the future, a Vatican intelligence unit official will ask the foreign unit for prior permission to share the data. . If the foreign unit refuses, Vatican prosecutors will have to resort to a formal request for cooperation.
The Moneyval report criticized the conduct of the Vatican authorities in organizing the raid, saying there was no evidence that they carried out a risk assessment regarding the international consequences.
The raid resulted in the departure of senior officials from the office and the hiring of replacements who Moneyval said had “very limited” law enforcement or financial intelligence experience. The report lamented the “loss of institutional memory” that resulted in and called for action to reduce high office turnover.