di Francesco Musolino
Strasbourg, December 9 - The Council of Europe's Moneyval anti-money-laundering agency approved its report Monday on progress made by the Holy See in the area of financial transparency. According to Moneyval internal regulations, this means that the monitoring agency is satisfied with the information provided by the Holy See and the progress made since 2012. Its report is expected to be made public next week. The Vatican Bank, officially known as the Institute for Religious Works (IOR), has come under intense scrutiny in recent years in connection with allegations of money laundering and other suspicious activities. Last year, Moneyval said in a report that the Vatican had made progress on financial transparency but still needed to improve in many areas. Since his election as pope in March, Francis has taken steps to deal with the array of financial scandals surrounding the Vatican Bank. He signaled his deep interest in change by warning early on that if the institution could not adapt to greater transparency in its operations and adherence to international banking standards, it might even have to be shut down. In August, Pope Francis issued new regulations at the Holy See in a papal decree known as a Motu Proprio, part of the pope's drive to clean up the Holy See's reputation on financial transparency. The Vatican followed that by signing an agreement with Italian authorities over the exchange of financial and banking information and the IOR has opened a website and begun publishing annual reports in a transparency drive. In October, the Vatican's Pontifical Commission passed new financial laws designed to increase transparency, surveillance and improve regulations to bring them into compliance with international standards including efforts to prevent and fight money-laundering and terror financing. The new laws will also boost the power and responsibilities of the Vatican's Financial Information Authority (AIF) to fight financial crime as well as providing for a stronger prudential role. Reforms have also included shutting client accounts that were not considered to be consistent with the bank's religious mission, Ernst von Freyberg, president of the Vatican bank, said in a report last month. It also gives the AIF "the function of prudential supervision over entities habitually engaged in financial activities," in response to a recommendation from Moneyval. The Vatican Bank and several of its employees have been probed by Italian magistrates in the past.