Pope to Issue Bank Norms Amid Laundering Probe

The Vatican planned to issue new rules Thursday designed to make its financial transactions more transparent after a money laundering probe resulted in the seizure of 23 million euros ($30.21 million) from a Vatican account.

Pope Benedict XVI
Pope Benedict XVI

The rules are expected to create a compliance authority to oversee all Vatican finances, as required by EU and other international organizations involved in the fight against money laundering and terror financing.

Vatican officials confirmed Wednesday that Pope Benedict XVI's executive order — called a "motu proprio" — making the rules into law, would be released Thursday.

The Vatican has maintained it has been working for over a year to come into compliance with such international norms, but the effort went into high gear following the money laundering probe, which embarrassed the Vatican and its bank chairman, economist Ettore Gotti Tedeschi.

Rome prosecutors on Sept. 21 seized 23 million euros and placed Gotti Tedeschi and his deputy under investigation, alleging the bank broke the law by trying to transfer money without identifying the sender or recipient. The two men have not been charged.

The Vatican has insisted the probe resulted from a "misunderstanding" that it hoped to clarify quickly. But twice Rome courts have refused to release the money, with a judge earlier this month saying nothing had changed in the way the Vatican guards the identity of its clients.

The Vatican bank is formally named Institute for Religious Works, or IOR, in Italian.

Gotti Tedeschi, who was named chairman of the IOR last year, has said he has been working to get the Vatican on the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development's "white list" of countries that share tax information to crack down on tax havens.

To do so, though, often can take years as the Vatican must enter into tax information sharing agreements with at least 12 other countries after making a formal commitment to transparency.

In addition, the Vatican has committed to come into compliance with the norms of the Financial Action Task Force — the Paris-based policymaking body that develops anti-money laundering and anti-terror financing legislation, FATF officials say.

The FATF requires the Vatican to pass legislation making money-laundering a crime; to establish an entity to report suspicious transactions and then investigate them; and to pass legislation requiring that the bank identify its customers properly and make that information available to law enforcement agencies.

Finally, the Vatican has agreed to make into its law EU directives on money laundering that are required of euro-zone countries, EU officials say.

It wasn't clear which of these provisions would be included in the Vatican document being released Thursday. The Vatican, however, has pledged to create the compliance authority by Jan. 1, 2011 and faced a Dec. 31, 2010 deadline to implement the EU directives on money laundering.