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Vatican surprised by bank's credit card block

By NICOLE WINFIELD, Associated Press Published: January 14, 2013

On Dec. 14, the Vatican approved the latest tweak to its financial regulations, giving Bruelhart's agency greater independence from the Vatican's secretariat of state to enter into financial sharing agreements with other countries. In addition, Bruelhart said the Vatican has begun the process of entering the Egmont Group.

The Bank of Italy has been on something of a campaign for several years to crack down on the Vatican bank, formally known as the Institute for Religious Works, over which it has no regulatory control given the Vatican is a sovereign state. But Bankitalia does have regulatory control over the Italian and international banks that operate in Italy and do business with the IOR, and has used those relationships to strangle the IOR as it enforces its anti-money laundering norms.

In 2010, Italian financial police seized (euro) 23 million and Rome prosecutors placed the IOR's then-president and general director under investigation for alleged violations of Italy's anti-money laundering norms in conducting a routine transaction from an IOR account at an Italian bank. The money was eventually returned. The men technically remain under investigation but, two years on, haven't been charged.

Then last year, under pressure from the Bank of Italy, JPMorgan closed its IOR accounts. Now, Deutsche Bank has halted its 15-year term providing electronic payment services to the Vatican.

Bruelhart was asked why the Vatican's efforts with Moneyval don't seem to have appeased the Bank of Italy. “Maybe I'm not the person to whom you should ask that question,” he said. “I would ask the Bank of Italy.”

In its statement this week, the central bank said its recent actions targeting the Vatican were merely designed “to increase the awareness of all banks established in Italy with the regard to the need to apply the current anti-money-laundering legislation in their dealings with the IOR.”

The Vatican has said it is in contact with various service providers to restart credit card operations, and says it foresees the interruption “will be brief.”

That said, an advisory posted on the website of the Vatican Museums says that as of Jan. 1, visitors can no longer pay for tickets via ATM or credit card. “We apologize for the inconvenience,” it reads.

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