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Financial watchdog group lifts Vatican suspension

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VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The Vatican announced that a suspension imposed on its financial oversight office by a prominent financial watchdog network has been lifted.

In a statement released Jan. 23, Carmelo Barbagallo, head of the Vatican Financial Information Authority, said that Mariano Federici, president of the Egmont Group, "decided to revoke the decision taken on Nov. 13, 2019, to suspend the Financial Information Authority from the international information circuit, Egmont Secure Web."

According to its website, the Egmont Group is an association of 164 financial intelligence units that "provides a platform for the secure exchange of expertise and financial intelligence to combat money laundering and terrorist financing."

Barbagallo said the lifting of the suspension was "a very important step" that confirms the Egmont Group's trust in AIF.

"This decision follows the explanations provided by AIF to Egmont concerning the extraordinary nature of the facts that gave rise to the suspension," he said.

The head of AIF also said the Vatican assured Egmont that information received through the watchdog's intelligence platform "will be treated in a manner that is consistent with the rules that apply to that circuit."

"The decision to revoke the suspension makes it possible for AIF to resume its collaboration with foreign financial intelligence units in full transparency and in the spirit of active cooperation," Barbagallo said.

The Egmont Group barred the Vatican's access to its network a little over a month after Vatican police conducted a raid on offices in the Secretariat of State and AIF.

In a statement published Oct. 1, the Vatican said the operation, which was authorized by Vatican chief prosecutor Gian Piero Milano and his deputy, Alessandro Diddi, led to the confiscation "of documents and electronic devices."

The raid, the statement said, "is related to complaints presented at the beginning of the summer by the Institute for the Works of Religion (Vatican bank) and the Office of the Auditor General, concerning financial transactions carried out over time."

Several days after Egmont suspended AIF's access to its intelligence platform, the Vatican announced that Rene Brulhart, was leaving at the end of his five-year term as head of AIF. However, in an interview with Reuters after the announcement, Brulhart said, "I resigned."

Returning to Rome from Japan Nov. 26, the pope told reporters that while questions about the Vatican's finances -- including the financing of a property development in London's Chelsea district in 2014 -- were serious, investigations conducted by Vatican authorities were proof that reform procedures instituted by Pope Benedict XVI and expanded by him are working.

"This is the first time the lids have been taken off the pots by someone inside and not outside" the Vatican, the pope said.

"For that, I am content," he said, "because it shows the Vatican administration has the resources" to report and investigate suspicious activity.

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