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Pope to set up watchdog to avoid further Vatican Bank scandals

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Bob Moon: It seems concern about banking corruption has reached — quite literally — the highest levels. The Pope has set up a new watchdog to ensure the Vatican does not engage in money-laundering or tax evasion.

You heard that right. The action follows a criminal investigation into the activities of the secretive Vatican Bank. From the European Desk in London, Marketplace’s Stephen Beard reports.

Stephen Beard: The two top officials at the Vatican Bank are still under investigation for allegedly breaking anti-money laundering laws. The Bank is accused of trying to transfer $30 million without explaining where the money had come from.

John Allen of the National Catholic Reporter says the new watchdog unveiled today is aimed at repairing the Vatican’s somewhat battered image.

John Allen: I think the Vatican is attempting to assure the world and particularly financial oversight authorities in Europe that it means to clean up its own act.

Just how much cleaning is required is not entirely clear. The Bank — with estimated assets worth $5 billion — does not publish any accounts. Author David Yallop has been investigating the Bank for almost 30 years. He says it’s a haven for tax dodging and hiding the proceeds of crime.

David Yallop: I mean the Vatican has been in the top 10 of money laundries certainly as far back as my first involvement with them in the ’80s and up to the current time.

The new watchdog will be run by a Cardinal. The ultimate goal is to get the Vatican onto the so-called “white list” of countries seen to be cracking down on financial shenanigans. Jeffrey Robinson, author and expert on money laundering, is not impressed.

Jeffrey Robinson: I suspect that the Cardinal’s orders are: ‘make it look like we’re doing what we should be doing — don’t get caught again.’

The Church dismisses this as cynicism. A lawyer representing the Bank said that setting up the new watchdog shows the Vatican does want to follow the rules.

In London, this is Stephen Beard for Marketplace.

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