Pope sets up commission for Vatican Bank

IOR aims to dispel money-laundering rumors, murky reputation

Pope sets up commission for Vatican Bank

(By Christopher Livesay) Rome, June 26 - Pope Francis has set up a pontifical commission on the Vatican Bank, the Vatican announced on Wednesday. The commission will start working "in the coming days" with the objective of briefing the pontiff on the bank's activities and making sure it operated in harmony with the "Church's mission," according to a statement. The Vatican Bank, officially known as the Institute for Religious Works (IOR), has come under scrutiny for alleged money laundering and is now working with the Council of Europe's Moneyval anti-money-laundering agency in a bid to make it onto the international 'white list' of banking. In a report last July, Moneyval said that the Holy See had made progress on financial transparency, but added that more reforms were needed. Italian magistrates are currently investigating the bank on money-laundering charges. The Italian press has increasingly speculated on the fate of the scandal-plagued bank, wondering whether the pontiff might reorganize or shut it down. The new IOR panel will be chaired by Cardinal Raffaele Farina, and it will include another three prelates and Harvard Law Professor Mary Ann Glendon, a former United States Ambassador to the Holy See. The Vatican Bank has made a series of moves to show greater transparency since Francis became pope in March, succeeding Benedict XVI who became the first pontiff to voluntarily abdicate in 700 years. Last month the Vatican's financial watchdog published its first annual report on the Holy See's efforts to combat money laundering and funding terrorism. In it, the Financial Information Authority (AIF) said it had uncovered six cases of suspect transactions in 2012, a notable increase since 2011 when only one such case was flagged. Two of those cases were sent on to Vatican prosecutors for a probe. AIF Director Rene' Bruelhart did not go into the specifics of the transactions, specifying only that "they were not tied to financing terrorism". Established by Benedict XVI in 2010, the AIF is charged with monitoring the commercial and monetary activities of Vatican agencies like the Vatican Bank. Over the years the Vatican Bank has acquired a murky image on transparency. There have been allegations that IOR was used to launder money most notably by 'God's Banker' Roberto Calvi, the former head of Italy's biggest private bank, whose body was found hanging under Blackfriar's Bridge in London in 1982, a suspected victim of the Sicilian mafia. IOR was also named in kickbacks probes stemming from the 1990 collapse of public-private chemicals colossus Enimont, part of the Clean Hands investigations that swept away Italy's old political establishment. More recently, there has been a series of Italian TV reports and a best-selling book claiming to show how individuals have used IOR to squirrel away money, dodging Italian regulations. A Vatican report to Moneyval is due in September. Other efforts to make IOR more transparent include a move to publish its balance sheets online by the end of the year.

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