The Vatican signed an agreement with the U.S. Treasury Department on Tuesday to exchange financial information as part of its efforts to comply with international anti-money laundering and anti-terror financing norms.
It's the fourth such agreement inked by the Holy See as it seeks to improve its reputation in global financial circles following a series of scandals at its bank and a money laundering investigation launched in 2010 by Rome prosecutors.
The agreement was signed Tuesday in Washington by Rene Bruelhart, director of the Vatican's financial watchdog agency, and Jennifer Shasky Calvery, head of the Treasury Department's financial crimes enforcement network, the Vatican said in a statement.
Pope Benedict XVI in 2010 created Bruelhart's agency, the Financial Intelligence Authority, and issued new laws to fight money laundering and terrorist financing in a bid to shed the Vatican bank's image as a tax haven that for decades had been mired in secrecy and scandal.
The Holy See also submitted itself to the Council of Europe's Moneyval evaluation process, which assesses countries' compliance with anti-money laundering and anti-terror financing norms established by the Financial Action Task Force, the Paris-based policymaking body.
The Vatican in July passed Moneyval's first evaluation, but received poor or failing grades for its financial watchdog agency and its bank.
In its report, Moneyval noted that the Vatican was limited in its ability to share financial information with other countries by requiring bilateral agreements to be in place beforehand such as the one signed Tuesday.
The Holy See insists on the requirement largely because it fears Italy would make unreasonable demands for financial information from the Vatican bank, where Vatican officials, dioceses and members of religious congregations hold accounts. The Bank of Italy suspects Italians are hiding taxable income in the bank.
The Holy See wanted to make sure that if it gave such information to Italy, a reciprocity agreement would require Italy to share similar information with the Holy See.
So far, the Vatican has entered into information-sharing agreements with Belgium, Spain, Slovenia and now the U.S. In a statement Tuesday, the Vatican said 20 more such agreements are in the pipeline.
In a statement, Bruelhart said the agreement was proof that the Vatican takes its responsibilities to fight money laundering seriously. "The Vatican has shown that it is a credible partner internationally and has made a clear commitment in the exchange of information in this fight," he said.
The Vatican in July must submit a progress report on its compliance with the Financial Action Task Force norms.
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