Cleaning Money at the Vatican

Money Laundering is a plot component of a great many crime dramas, and in some cases involves actually doing laundry.

Jennifer Tilly "Bound" 1996

Of course, all all money laundering operations function the way it’s displayed here, athough, personally I’d rather imagine Violet and Corky than old men in robes.

The Financial Action Task Force, describes money laundering

The goal of a large number of criminal acts is to generate a profit for the individual or group that carries out the act. Money laundering is the processing of these criminal proceeds to disguise their illegal origin. This process is of critical importance, as it enables the criminal to enjoy these profits without jeopardising their source.

And later how money laundering is accomplished.

In the initial - or placement - stage of money laundering, the launderer introduces his illegal profits into the financial system. This might be done by breaking up large amounts of cash into less conspicuous smaller sums that are then deposited directly into a bank account, or by purchasing a series of monetary instruments (cheques, money orders, etc.) that are then collected and deposited into accounts at another location.

After the funds have entered the financial system, the second – or layering – stage takes place. In this phase, the launderer engages in a series of conversions or movements of the funds to distance them from their source. The funds might be channelled through the purchase and sales of investment instruments, or the launderer might simply wire the funds through a series of accounts at various banks across the globe. This use of widely scattered accounts for laundering is especially prevalent in those jurisdictions that do not co-operate in anti-money laundering investigations. In some instances, the launderer might disguise the transfers as payments for goods or services, thus giving them a legitimate appearance.

Having successfully processed his criminal profits through the first two phases  the launderer then moves them to the third stage – integration – in which the funds re-enter the legitimate economy. The launderer might choose to invest the funds into real estate, luxury assets, or business ventures.

We most often think of money laundering as the focus of major criminal organizations such as drug smugglers, arms dealers, human traffickers, or other who base a their empires on total lawlessness and violence.

The United States State Department keeps a list of entities that they suspect of committing or being complicit is international laundering schemes. This year, for the first time, the Vatican has been added to the list. I’ve written about the corruption at in Holy See before, and how their preferred method of dealing with exposure is to remove the whistleblower.

The Vatican has for the first time appeared on the U.S. State Department’s list of money-laundering centres but the tiny city-state is not rated as a high-risk country.

The 2012 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report was made public on Wednesday and Washington’s list of 190 countries classifies them in three categories: of primary concern, of concern and monitored.

The Vatican is in the second category, grouped with 67 other nations including Poland, Egypt, Ireland, Hungary and Chile.

It was added to the list because it was considered vulnerable to money-laundering and had recently established programmes to prevent it, a State Department official said.

To be considered a jurisdiction of concern merely indicates that there is a vulnerability to a financial system by money launderers. With the large volumes of international currency that goes through the Holy See, it is a system that makes it vulnerable as a potential money-laundering center,” Susan Pittman of the State Department’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement, told Reuters.

Since the scandal broke in 2010, they have instituted programs to prevent money laundering in their banks, so things may be improving.

The Vatican Bank, founded in 1942 by Pope Pius XII, has been in the spotlight since September 2010 when Italian investigators froze 23 million euros ($33 million) in funds in Italian banks after opening an investigation into possible money-laundering.

The bank said it did nothing wrong and was just transferring funds between its own accounts. The money was released in June 2011 but the investigation is continuing.

So, what can we say about this criminal organization?

The Vatican banks have large amounts of foreign money flowing through them, to the extent that an international investigation was instigated. They have been convicted of child sexual abuse continuing over generations and reaching the highest echelons of the organization.  They deliberately misconstrue data on contraceptive use to ensure the continuation and expansion of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Afirca. They use their influence in an attempt to deny equal rights to gays, lesbians, and transgenders. They fight women’s rights by attempting them reproductive rights such as contraception, emergency contraception, abortion, and by association, denying them access to cancer screenings and other necessary heath care.

They are not alone in their battles against those who do hold positions of privileged in society, but it is impossible to find another single entity that has such a world wide impact in the fight against corruption and against enforcing and expanding human  rights. But they are by far the world’s leader in those categories.

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