ROME – Pope Francis today pressed his campaign to internationalize the Vatican’s financial management, replacing an all-Italian panel overseeing his anti-money laundering agency with a new group drawn from four different nations, including a Harvard professor and former official in the George W. Bush administration.
The appointments came a day after the announcement that a Catholic business manager from Australia will hold a senior position in the pope’s new Secretariat of the Economy, designed to force fiscal transparency and discipline on all Vatican departments.
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The “Financial Information Authority” (AIF) was created in 2010 under Pope Benedict XVI to bring the Vatican into compliance with international standards in the fight against money laundering and the financing of terrorism.
Its director is a Swiss lawyer named Renè Bruelhart, who previously led a European regulatory body called the Egmont Group, where one of his claims to fame was restoring a Gulf Stream jet owned by Saddam Hussein to Iraq’s new government in 2003.
Prior to today’s overhaul, AIF’s board of directors had been composed of five veteran Italian counselors of the Vatican, and observers say that Bruelhart and the group occasionally clashed over the pace and direction of reform.
Today’s nominations thus are seen as a boost to Bruelhart, giving him a more global group to supervise the department’s work. A Vatican spokesmen today told reporters it was “fairly evident” that Francis wanted to internationalize the body.
The new directors of AIF include Juan C. Zarate, a visiting lecturer at Harvard Law School and a senior advisor to the university’s Center for Strategic and International Studies. From 2005 to 2009, Zarate served as deputy National Security Advisor with responsibility for counter-terrorism strategy.
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Prior to that, Zarate had been an official in the US Treasury Department responsible for combatting terrorist financing and financial crimes.
The other new directors of the Financial Information Authority are Joseph Yuvaraj Pillay, an airline executive who’s also served in Singapore’s finance ministry and as director of its monetary authority; Marc Odendall, a former official with both J.P Morgan and Merrill Lynch who today acts as a consulter for non-profit organizations; and Maria Bianca Farina, an Italian insurance executive who’s also a member of a federation of Italian banks and a member of the board of “Save the Children.”
The Vatican also announced Thursday that Tommaso di Ruzza, an Italian and official of the Financial Information Authority, has been named to the new position of vice-director, working under Bruelhart.
The pope’s clean-up campaign comes amid fresh reminders of the financial scandals that have rocked the Vatican over the years, including charges that a former top official under Benedict XVI, Italian Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, used his influence to steer almost $20 million in Vatican bank loans to a film company run by a friend, funds that were eventually lost.
Francis pledged “honesty and transparency” in an airborne press conference on the return from his recent trip to the Middle East, saying that the latest charges are under review.
“It’s something that’s under study,” the pope said. “It’s not clear. Maybe it could be true, but at this time nothing is definitive.”