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Vatican financial agency reports increase in suspicious activities.

VATICAN CITY * The Vatican's financial watchdog agency flagged 544 activities as suspicious or questionable in the city-state's financial institutions in 2015. But watchdog officials say this threefold increase in suspect activities doesn't mean crime is up, it means the system is working.

In its fourth annual report released April 28, the Vatican's Financial Information Authority said it had frozen or halted movement on some $2.4 million and 15.3 million euros. It referred 17 cases to the Vatican's Office of the Promoter of Justice, for possible review of crimes such as fraud, tax avoidance, tax evasion and "more serious financial crimes ... such as market disruption in foreign states," the report said.

The increase of suspicious activity was due to "the strengthening of reporting mechanisms and supervised entities' increasing awareness of reporting obligations," the agency's director, Tommaso di Ruzza, said in an introduction to the 2015 report.

"Transparency and integrity in the financial sector are fundamental goals," di Ruzza said. "The pursuit of these goals is a strategic and operational duty but it is, first and foremost, a moral duty, considering the Holy See's mission in the world."

Rene Brulhart, the agency's president, said at a press conference April 28 that the report shows "the system works and that measures have been put in place that these potential abuses ... can be addressed."

Pope Benedict XVI started the Financial Information Authority in 2010. Pope Francis strengthened it and has been working to bring the Vatican's diverse set of financial organizations into compliance with international standards.

Francis made the unusual step of personally visiting two of the Vatican's main financial entities--the Secretariat for the Economy, headed by Australian Cardinal George Pell, and the Administration of the Patrimony of the Holy See--the morning of April 28.

A week earlier, the Vatican announced that it had suspended a contract it had opened in December with the international accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers to conduct an external audit for "continuing the implementation of new financial management policies and practices in line with international standards."

Reportedly there were questions about whether or not the contract with PricewaterhouseCoopers had been properly entered into.

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Title Annotation:Vatican Financial Information Authority
Author:McElwee, Joshua J.
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Article Type:Brief article
Geographic Code:4EXVA
Date:May 20, 2016
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