New director named for Vatican financial watchdog authority

Vatican City, Apr 15, 2020 / 09:05 am (CNA).- The Vatican has named a new director for its internal financial watchdog. 

In a statement April 15, the Holy See press office said that the Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin had appointed Giuseppe Schlitzer as director of the Financial Intelligence Authority (AIF). He succeeds Tommaso Di Ruzza, who completed his five-year term of office January 20, according to the Vatican.

Cardinal Parolin also named a new vice-director, Federico Antellini Russo.

The two men will run the watchdog, which combats money laundering, along with AIF President Carmelo Barbagallo, who was appointed after the departure of René Brülhart in Nov. 2019. A Vatican statement at the time said that Brülhart was leaving at the end of his five-year term, but the Swiss lawyer told Reuters that he had resigned from the post.

Schlitzer has held positions at Banca d’Italia, Italy’s central bank, the International Monetary Fund in Washington, D.C., and the General Confederation of Italian Industry. He has served as managing director of AITEC, an association of cement producers, and vice-president of the Jacques Maritain International Institute.

Antellini Russo has worked at the AIF since 2015. He served as an economist in the research and development section of the joint-stock company Consip from 2008 to 2013. He then moved to the research department of the Italian investment bank Cassa Depositi e Prestiti, before joining the AIF.   

Pope Benedict XVI founded the AIF in 2010 to oversee Vatican financial transactions. It is charged with ensuring that internal banking policies comply with international financial standards. 

In 2013 the AIF became a full member of the Egmont Group, a global network of financial intelligence units. But the Egmont Group suspended the AIF on Nov. 13, 2019, after Vatican gendarmes raided the offices of the Secretariat of State and the AIF. It reinstated the AIF on Jan. 22 this year. 

After the raid on the AIF on Oct. 1, 2019, a total of five employees and officials were suspended and blocked from entering the Vatican, including AIF director Tommaso Di Ruzza.

On Oct. 23, the AIF’s board of directors issued a statement expressing “full faith and trust in the professional competence and honorability” of Di Ruzza, but no announcement was ever made by Vatican authorities regarding the results of any investigation into Di Ruzza or his return to work. 

During an in-flight press conference after his trip to Japan on Nov. 26, Pope Francis said that Di Ruzza had been suspended “because there were suspicions of poor administration”.

“Let’s hope he is innocent,” he said, “I would like it to be so because it’s a good thing that a person be innocent and not guilty, I hope so."

Following the raids, the Egmont Group suspension and the exit of René Brülhart, two high-profile figures, Marc Odendall and Juan Zarate, resigned from the AIF’s board of directors. Odendall said at the time that the AIF had been effectively rendered “an empty shell” and that there was “no point” in remaining involved in its work.   

Moneyval, the Council of Europe’s anti-money laundering watchdog, is expected to carry out an inspection of the Vatican this spring. 

ACI Stampa, CNA's Italian-language partner agency, quoted outgoing director Di Ruzza as saying: "I thank the Holy Father for the opportunity he has granted me to serve the Holy See. I am confident that in these years AIF has done its best to build a solid and credible anti-money laundering system at the international level.”

* This article was originally published here


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