Report card on Vatican transparency to be released

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By NICOLE WINFIELD, Associated Press

VATICAN CITY (AP) — The Vatican's bid to get on the so-called "white list" of financially transparent countries passes a key stage Wednesday with the eagerly awaited release of a report card on its efforts to comply with international norms to fight money laundering and terror financing.

A Council of Europe committee will issue its first evaluation of the Holy See's compliance with 49 recommendations covering everything from completing customer due diligence checks at its bank to keeping a list of terrorist suspects. Scoring a compliant or largely compliant grade on at least half of the 16 "key and core" recommendations is critical to the next phase of the Vatican's "white list" bid.

Indications are the Vatican will pass the test, praised for its efforts in some areas but criticized for shortcomings in others. Given that some countries remain noncompliant for years, the Vatican's first independent, international and public evaluation of its finances may go a long way toward removing its reputation as a shady tax haven long mired in scandal.

The Vatican submitted itself to the Moneyval evaluation process more than two years ago after it signed onto the 2009 EU Monetary Convention. Since then, it has written and rewritten a law criminalizing money laundering, created a financial watchdog agency and ratified three anti-crime U.N. treaties, among other measures.

Each of those moves is required by the Financial Action Task Force, the Paris-based policymaking body that helps countries develop anti-money laundering and anti-terror financing legislation. The Council of Europe's Moneyval committee on Wednesday will rate whether the Vatican was compliant, largely compliant, partially compliant or noncompliant in each of the task force's 49 recommendations.

Pope Benedict XVI himself has said he wanted the Vatican's finances to follow international principles, saying peace in the world today is threatened by terrorism and an improper use of the global financial system.

The Vatican's Moneyval evaluation process has been the source of enormous attention and speculation in Italy, given that it corresponded with the eruption of the scandal over leaked Vatican documentation that alleged corruption in the Holy See's finances as well as infighting over whether the Vatican's efforts to comply with the anti-money laundering norms were on the right track.

As the process neared its end, the Vatican bank — known as the Institute for Religious Works — threw another wrench into the mix by firing its president who had been brought in by the pope's No. 2 specifically to usher in a new era of financial transparency at the Holy See. The bank's board accused him of actually being an obstacle to transparency and of failing to do his job.

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