VATICAN CITY (AP) — The Vatican's financial watchdog agency said Friday it received 147 reports of suspicious financial transactions last year, a sign that tough new anti-money laundering norms are taking hold at its scandal-marred bank.
The Financial Information Authority's annual report showed a slight decline in the number of suspicious reports received in 2014 compared to the 202 received in 2013, when the Vatican bank was undergoing a review of all its accounts.
Of the 147 transactions that were flagged as potentially problematic in 2014, the agency forwarded seven to Vatican prosecutors for investigation. Most concerned suspected fraud, tax fraud or tax evasion, the report said.
Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI created the agency in 2010 as a key part of a bid to clean up the Vatican's financial house to comply with international anti-money laundering and anti-terror financing norms.
Italian prosecutors had long accused the Vatican's bank, for example, of having such lax standards that Italians could use it to shield money from Italian tax authorities. In recent years, senior bank officials were placed under investigation by Italian magistrates for allegedly violating anti-money-laundering norms, while a Vatican accountant was put on trial for using his bank accounts to allegedly launder money.
The watchdog, known as AIF, last month signed a tax information sharing agreement with Italy in a bid to crack down on evasion. And it has signed agreements with some 20 other countries to share financial information in general.
AIF said it the number of cases of cooperation with other countries had increased from four in 2012 to 113 in 2014.
The agency's president, Rene Bruelhart, said the Vatican had made a "big step forward" in 2014, implementing its new laws and conducting its first on-site inspection of the bank.
"Is everything great and perfect? No. It most probably will never be because it's an ongoing process," he said. "But it's a very good and it's a very transparent process."
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