Are Italian finance police about to set up a checkpoint outside the Vatican's Porta Santa Anna gate to stop people who have visited the Vatican Bank, IOR, in order to ascertain the nature of their business?
That alarmist scenario emerged last weekend following Italian media speculation that the Holy See’s financial regulator AIF had been less than co-operative with Italian Customs in relation to movements of money at IOR in 2011 and 2012.
Furthermore, Italian daily, Corriere Della Sera yesterday reported that some 1,200 of IOR's 19,000 accounts will shortly be closed by the bank. Corriere suggests the accounts in question, known as "lay" accounts, could account for up to €300 million.
Unruffled by reports
Sources at IOR were last night unworried by the media reports, claiming that the Vatican Bank co-operated with "all the appropriate authorities" and that the "lay" accounts had been closed because the account holders had "no ongoing affiliation with the Holy See".
Speaking in parliament last Friday, however, junior finance minister Sesa Amici confirmed that the Customs agency was waiting for a reply from AIF to a June 19th request for a meeting. In particular, it is reportedly seeking information about almost 5,000 unregistered movements of money in and out of Italy via IOR. Inevitably, Italian finance police suspect the undeclared money may relate to tax evasion and money laundering.
Since his election last March, Pope Francis has tried to instigate a "clean-up" and a restructuring of the finances of the Holy See and the Vatican City state. To that end, he has created two pontifical commissions, one relative to IOR and the other to the overall finances of the Holy See. However, observers suspect various "pre-Francis" forces within the Holy See are less than enthusiastic about full and frank financial revelations.
Ironically, the latest allegations have emerged in a week when IOR may receive a relatively clean bill of health from the Council of Europe’s Moneyval committee, which evaluates international anti-money laundering measures.