Mondadori Portfolio via Getty Images
There is also a suspicious financing operation for international terrorism, among those reported at the end of 2019 by the Holy See Financial Intelligence Authority. It is an absolute new entry for the Vatican’s Intelligence Unit Annual Report, the body to combat money laundering and terrorist financing.
Last year there were 64 reports of suspicious activity (compared to 58 the previous year), including 4 from authorities of the Holy See, including the famous one from the Vatican Secretariat of State (before the investigation started Promoter of justice to whom the general auditor had addressed) about serious irregularities in the finalization, between 2018 and 2019, of the purchase of the famous London palace purchased in 2014 by the financier Raffaele Mincione.
15 of these reports were themselves sent, after verification, to the Office of the Promoter of Justice of the Papal States, to deal with the judiciary (against 11 of 2018). 370 subjects have undergone investigations in an international collaboration with the authorities of multiple jurisdictions to identify the financial schemes for potentially illegal actions.
A substantial activity, despite the fact that between 1 October and the end of November the AIF (a young institution for the times of the Holy See, established by Benedict XVI in 2011) was beheaded precisely following the investigations of the Vatican Promoter on the Sloane Ave palace (under investigation the former director general Di Ruzza, unconditional mandate to the Swiss René Bruelhart).
But now phase two of financial transparency has begun, which is part of a time of greatest economic weakness, due to Covid, of the Holy See (the collapse of the collections of the Vatican Museums causes a pandemic and the lower profits deriving from the IOR).
A few weeks ago the new president of the AIF Carmelo Barbagallo (former head of the Bank of Italy’s Supervision) held a seminar for the heads of the Vatican agencies, a sort of “lesson” in which he said that “crime in times of crisis manages to creep into the fabric of the economy … And so this is a time when you absolutely have to have your eyes more open than usual “.
This need for the Vatican falls just when the smallest state in the world is once again placed under the lens of the evaluators of Moneyval (the body of the Council of Europe) who will make Oltre Tevere their second “site visit” after that of spring from 2012 (it was supposed to be held in April, but slipped due to Covid). Barbagallo said that this is a “crucial appointment”, given that the evaluation of the financial markets on the Vatican will also depend on it. In the meantime, the statutes of the body, which will also change its name (AISF) to underline its competence in prudential supervision (a general inspection is underway at the IOR, precisely from this point of view), the staff has been doubled (six to 12). The new General Manager, Giuseppe Schlitzer, and his deputy Federico Antellini Russo have been appointed.
The financing of terrorism is considered a crime of a financial nature both by Gafi-Fatf (G7 intergovernmental body) and by Moneyval. Just think, for example, that a few days ago the Gico della Guardia di Finanza seized a huge amount of drugs (Captagon) in Salerno, produced in Syria, Lebanon and Iran, which would have yielded a billion euros if sold.
There is a historical precedent. In the general clean-up of the accounts of the IOR carried out by the ex-president von Freyberg on October 2, 2013 the accounts that related to four embassies in Syria, Indonesia, Iran and Iraq were closed. Back then we wanted to reduce “the risk that the IOR could be not only a channel for money laundering but also for financing terrorism”.
As you know, all the heads of the Embassies to the Holy See (from number one to number three) can hold accounts at the so-called Vatican bank. A diplomatic tug of war followed, a missile struck the Nunciature in Damascus on November 5.
“I urge the international community to support the efforts these countries are making in the struggle to defeat the scourge of terrorism, which is bleeding more and more entire parts of Africa, like other regions of the world,” he said this year, January 9, to the diplomatic corps Pope Francis, in an international context heated by Iranian missile actions and the American strike in which the Iranian general Soleimani was killed in Iraq.
The AIF alert is all the more valuable at a time when tension is not easing over the terrorist threat. After the latest attacks in several European countries at the end of 2019, and the most recent in recent weeks, the Vatican and Pope Bergoglio himself have returned to the center of intelligence and law enforcement. The Ministry of the Interior, at the end of February, decided to strengthen the presence of police personnel in San Pietro precisely because of the risks from terrorism.
The Vatican Security Inspectorate has communicated – it is written in a circular – “that an operational first aid unit will be set up at the Office in consideration of the persistence of the international terrorist threat that has often affected tourist and religious places”. The decision to create a department made up of super-specialized staff was taken to ensure greater “public safety in the area close to Vatican City and the Supreme Pontiff state”. The police reinforcements destined for the operation had been added to those already strengthened for the coronavirus emergency.