In a further bid to counter and prevent financial crime within the jurisdiction of the Holy See, Pope Francis issued a decree to tighten Vatican safeguards on money laundering.
The Pope’s latest "motu proprio" ("on one’s own initiative"), issued Aug. 8, strengthens the supervisory powers of the Vatican’s Financial Information Authority "in response to a recommendation of the Moneyval Committee," the Vatican said.
Moneyval is a European watchdog group that carried out a review of the Institute of Works of Religion — better known as the Vatican Bank — last year.
The new decree aims to prevent and counter not only money laundering, but also cites its associated crimes of financing terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.
Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi said the Vatican "has a responsibility to the international community" to ensure that all Vatican activities measure up to international efforts to prevent the financing of terrorism.
The Vatican said that the new apostolic letter "broadens" the application of existing Vatican laws to include the dicasteries (departments) of the Roman Curia and other institutes and entities dependent on the Holy See, as well as "nonprofit organizations" that fall under the jurisdiction of Vatican city state and make financial transfers.
Speaking to Vatican Radio Aug. 8, Father Lombardi said the "motu proprio" was a kind of "tool box" through which individual laws and regulations can be applied to all these institutions. Under a "motu proprio" of Benedict XVI in 2010, the rules only applied to Vatican institutions primarily engaged in financial affairs or commerce. These included the Governorate of Vatican city state, the Vatican Bank, the Vatican Museums and the Administration of the Patrimony of the Apostolic See.
Francis’ document also establishes a Financial Security Committee, whose primary task is to coordinate these new controls, Father Lombardi said. But he added it will not establish new controls, as these are already assigned to the relevant institutions.
The new body will be chaired by Msgr. Peter Wells, the American assessor for general affairs — the Vatican’s closest equivalent to a chief of staff. Its members will be the undersecretary for relations with states; the secretary of the Prefecture for the Economic Affairs of the Holy See; the deputy secretary general of the Governorate; the promoter of justice of the Apostolic Tribunal; the director of the Vatican Financial Information Authority (who will function as the committee’s secretary); and the director of the Security and Civil Protection Services Department.
Father Lombardi said "the main novelty" of the "motu proprio" is the "strengthening and extension of the powers of the Financial Information Authority," whose task will now be to carry out "prudential supervision" of those institutions that carry out "professional activity of a financial nature."
Benedict XVI set up the Financial Information Authority in 2010 and appointed Italian Cardinal Attilio Nicora as its head. The current director of the FIA is Rene Bruelhart, a Swiss layman who was brought in by the Vatican to help improve financial supervision.
The FIA is not a Vatican central bank, but shares some similar characteristics, as it is charged with supervising financial transactions to prevent money laundering, as well as monitoring the circulation of money in Vatican city state. Last month, it became a full member of Egmont Group, an international network of financial intelligence units.
The new decree is "a means of ensuring the road [toward transparency] continues," Father Lombardi told reporters Aug. 8. "In today’s world, it is all about resisting increasingly insidious forms of financial criminality. We have to be equal to the challenges in order to protect legality and not be left behind," he said.
He added that the aim isn’t to win Moneyval’s approval, but that the European watchdog "is the instrument we are using to determine whether we are up to international standards."
The move follows the arrest of Msgr. Nunzio Scarano, a Vatican official suspected of smuggling 20 million euros into Italy from Switzerland. Msgr. Scarano protests his innocence and accuses lay supervisors in the Vatican’s asset management arm of abusive activities, which he claims some cardinals had covered up.
Usually, much of the Vatican is closed for summer vacations at this time of year, but this latest decree shows that Pope Francis continues to work.
Asked if the Holy Father is on vacation, Father Lombardi told Vatican Radio: "No. ... This is an aspect of his great activity." But he added that certain steps need to be taken "resolutely and promptly, without delay," so that stated requirements can be met.
He further noted that when Moneyval had made its first systematic assessment, it had noticed how the Holy See and Vatican city state were "quick to move." Such a prompt response is "continuing," he said, so that all these requirements of international standards can be met and "peace" can be restored "in the field of economic and financial activity."