05 June 2014
Hannah Roberts in Rome
Pope sacks whole board of Vatican bank watchdog
Pope Francis has removed the entire board of the Vatican's financial watchdog in his latest attempt to rehabilitate the troubled Vatican bank.
Two years before they were due to step down, the five Italians heading the Financial Information Authority (AIF) have been replaced with a more international group of experts, including one woman.
The change follows reports of clashes between the board members and the body’s Swiss director, René Bruelhart, an anti-money laundering expert.
The new members are Marc Odendall, who manages and advises philanthropic organisations in Switzerland, Juan Zarate, a Harvard law professor who was a security adviser to President George Bush, Joseph Yuvaraj Pillay, former managing director of the Monetary Authority of Singapore, and Maria Bianca Farina, the head of two Italian insurance companies.
The Vatican said in a statement that Francis had thanked the “illustrious” former members. The Holy See spokesman Fr Federico Lombardi said the changes were in line with “an internationalisation” of the agency and were in response to the requirements of a new statute introduced last year.
Last November the Pope set forth new responsibilities of the AIF by issuing a new statute that built the AIF on the two pillars of supervision and financial intelligence, and set out among other requirements, required professional and financial skills for key personnel of the AIF’s bodies.
The ousting of the old board comes after months of infighting at the agency.
Pope Benedict XVI created the watchdog in 2010 to supervise and regulate the widely discredited Vatican bank – which is officially known as the Institute for Works of Religion (IOR) – and prevent it being used for money-laundering and for terrorism.
But when Bruelhart, who cleaned up Liechtenstein’s banking system, arrived as director in 2012 he encountered resistance to the reforms from an old guard.
The group reportedly wrote to Vatican Secretary of State Pietro Parolin earlier this year complaining that they were being kept in the dark, after Bruelhart’s arrival.
Reformist members of the Curia had urged Francis to bring in professionals with a global perspective who could work with the Swiss lawyer.
Internal disagreements had previously led to the ousting of Cardinal Attilio Nicora as agency president earlier this year and replaced him with an archbishop with a track record of reform.
Francis has been attentive to the reforms of the Vatican finances. In February he set up a new Secretariat for the Economy, which reports directly to him.
And in January he sacked all but one of the five cardinals in the commission that supervises the Vatican bank.
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