By Hannah Brockhaus
The Vatican’s Financial Information Authority said in their annual report Tuesday that they continue to catch cases of fraud involving the city state’s financial institutions, including a case of money laundering.
The report, presented to journalists March 21, showed that there were 56 Suspicious Activity Reports filed with the AIF in 2018, down from 150 in 2017.
SARs filed over the last three years have led the AIF to investigate cases of money laundering and financial fraud within Vatican financial entities.
Among these appears to be the case of Argentine Msgr. Patrizio Benvenuti, who was arrested and charged with financial fraud, tax evasion, and money laundering in 2016.
Sums worth around 9 million euros were seized from Benvenuti’s non-profit organization, Kepha Invest. It is believed he defrauded some 300 people out of around 30 million euros ($33.5 million).
The AIF was established by Benedict XVI in 2010 to supervise the Vatican’s financial activity and prevent and counter money laundering. It investigates suspicious activity and then passes the information on to the competent authorities for prosecution.
The competent authority may be a foreign state or the Vatican’s Office of the Promoter of Justice.
Dicasteries of the Roman Curia and any non-profit organizations which have registered offices in the Vatican City State fall under the supervision of the AIF, which may take measures to counter and prevent money laundering and terrorism financing as well as undertake “prudential supervision” of financial activities.
The AIF also monitors and reviews actions carried out by the Administration of the Patrimony of the Holy See, which oversees the Vatican’s real estate holdings, and the Institute for Religious Works, which is commonly called “the Vatican bank,” though a misnomer.
During 2018, the AIF referred 11 cases to the Office of the Promoter of Justice. The report gave limited to no information on the conclusion of those cases. The report gave four example cases from the last three years, the investigations of which were completed in 2018, but without identifying information.
One of the examples given likely refers to the case of Angelo Proietti, who was convicted by a Vatican court in December 2018 of money laundering and sentenced to two years and six months in prison. The conviction is currently under appeal. This was the Vatican tribunal’s first conviction for money laundering.
Another example likely refers to the case against Angelo Caloia, president of the IOR from 1989-2009, and his lawyer, Gabriele Liuzzo, who were indicted March 5, 2018, on accusations of having embezzled money from Vatican real estate sales during the years 2001-2008.
The report also lists the AIF’s uncovering of a fraudulent “branch” of the IOR in Spain. The alleged non-profit organization presented itself as a canon law foundation, like the IOR is, and used the name of the Vatican institution to elicit donations. The head of the network was also falsely posing as a diplomat.
According to the report, the AIF collaborated with the Financial Intelligence Unit in Spain and “the beneficial owners of the company were arrested on charges of criminal conspiracy, and sums of money and valuables, including firearms, were seized.”
Also, in 2018, the AIF exchanged information with counterpart authorities in foreign jurisdictions in 488 cases, and signed eight new “Memoranda of Understanding,” meaning it now has agreements with financial intelligence units and supervisory authorities in 57 countries.
René Bruelhart, president of the AIF, told journalists May 21, “if we look back in 2018, I think it has been a very positive and also encouraging year.”
While he said challenges still exist, now they have the systems in place to tackle them. “At this point, I think a fully functioning system has been implemented and achieved,” he said. “The path we are walking on has become a well paved one… and we continue moving forward.”