‘No criminal misconduct’ in Vatican money transfers, Australian police say

News: Vatican Finances

Australian authorities have announced they have found no evidence of criminal activity during their examination of money transfers from the Vatican into the country.

Australian Federal Police released a brief statement on Feb. 3 announcing that “The AFP has completed analysis of the financial intelligence provided by AUSTRAC in relation to payments from the Vatican to Australia.” 

“No criminal misconduct has been identified to date,” the federal police concluded.

The announcement would appear to close one of the more lurid offshoots of the Vatican financial scandal, currently centered on the Secretariat of State.

In the weeks following the forced resignation of Cardinal Angelo Becciu on Sept. 24, several Italian newspapers reported that Becciu had been responsible for the transfer of hundreds of thousands of euros from the Vatican to Australia during the trial of Cardinal Geroge Pell, the former head of the Vatican’s Secretariat for the Economy.

Following those reports, authorities in Australia have been examining transfers of money from the Vatican to Australia since October, when Nicole Rose, the head of AUSTRAC, the national financial crimes watchdog, told a senate hearing that the agency had passed a dossier of information concerning Vatican money transfers over to federal and state police.

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After initially reporting that more than AU$2 billion had been transferred from the Vatican between 2014-2020, Austrac announced in January that the real figure was less than $10 million, and blamed a coding error for the discrepancy. At the same time, the agency confirmed ongoing investigations into millions of dollars allegedly sent by Cardinal Angelo Becciu during the prosecution of Cardinal George Pell. 

The Australian, an Australian newspaper, reported in January that Vatican and Australian authorities were examining four transfers from the Secretariat of State. Two specifically, they said, were sent by Cardinal Becciu to a company in Melbourne in 2017-2018, and amount to AU$2 million.

That investigation would appear now to be closed, following Wednesday’s announcement by federal police.

“If the AFP receives additional information from Australian or international partners it will be reviewed accordingly,” the statement said.

The investigation in Australia was triggered when the Italian newspapers Corriere della Sera and Il Messagero reported in October last year that the transfers were part of a dossier of evidence against Cardinal Becciu being investigated by Vatican authorities. 

The newspapers also reported that the transfers, which were suggested to have been in some way linked to Pell’s trial, had been flagged to Vatican prosecutors by Msgr. Alberto Perlasca, Becciu’s former deputy in the Secretariat of State’s first section.

During Becciu’s tenure as sostituto at the Secretariat of State, from 2011 until June 2018, Perlasca was the head of the Administrative Office of the first section, which had management of the curial department’s finances and investments. 

Perlasca was transferred out of the secretariat in July, 2019, the same month Vatican prosecutors began their investigation into the department’s financial affairs. Perlasca’s home and office were raided in February last year and he was suspended from his position as a prosecutor at the Apostolic Signatura, the Church’s supreme canonical court.

Perlasca has been widely reported to be cooperating with investigators since the time of the raid.

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Becciu has repeatedly rejected all allegations or suggestions that he had any connection to or made any attempt to influence the trial of Cardinal Pell.

In September last year, Pope Francis ordered Becciu to resign his position as the prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints and his rights as a cardinal, after the pope was reportedly presented with a dossier of evidence against him by Vatican prosecutors related to alleged financial misconduct.

Becciu has been linked to a series of financial scandals at the Secretariat of State, including some involving Church-run hospitals, along with the London property deal.

Becciu has also been accused of attempting to shield investments from the Vatican’s Secretariat for the Economy. This led to several reported clashes between Becciu and Cardinal Pell, who was in charge of cleaning up Vatican finances from 2014-2017.

The cardinal has also faced questions about his role in directing the financial affairs of the Secretariat of State even after he was transferred out of the department, including authorizing payment to a self-described “security consultant” and political analyst who has been charged by the Vatican with embezzlement.

Since his forced resignation, Becciu has strongly asserted his innocence of any financial impropriety.