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Vatican's financial crimes prosecution hurt by inexperience

By NICOLE WINFIELD  -  The Associated Press

ROME (AP) ??" European evaluators warned Wednesday that the Vatican's efforts to investigate and prosecute financial crimes were suffering from understaffing and inexperience, as well as the mistaken belief that its own cardinals and bishops were immune to criminal conduct.

The Council of Europe's Moneyval commission issued a lengthy report into the Holy See's compliance with international norms to fight money laundering and terrorist financing. Overall, the evaluators gave the Holy See good grades, finding that it was complying with most standards, had taken steps to improve its laws and had achieved effective levels of international cooperation.

But the evaluators complained that Vatican prosecutors had only managed to bring a handful of money laundering cases to trial in the past decade. They said the lengthy time needed to reach both an indictment and conviction showed only a "modest" functioning of the judicial system, and warned that the sentences handed down to date were so "minimal" that they provided no deterrent value.

And most critically, the report strongly faulted the Holy See for having ignored the possibility that its own employees might be abusing their offices and the Vatican's financial system for their own personal gain. They said their evaluation process couldn't be completed until the Vatican undertakes a "comprehensive assessment" of the risks posed by insiders and enhances its own supervision of staff to detect possible crimes.

The report was issued amid a two-year criminal investigation into the Vatican secretariat of state's 350 million euro ($425 million) investment in a London real estate deal that has implicated a half-dozen Vatican employees and a handful of outside Italian brokers who are accused of fleecing the Holy See of tens of millions of euros in fees.

No indictments have been handed down. The investigation has exposed that high-ranking officials in the secretariat of state ??" as well as Pope Francis himself ??" were aware of the deal and approved it, but to date aren't known to be under investigation.

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