January 14, 2013

Bank's credit card block takes Vatican by surprise

It's cash only at the Vatican Museums – a big source of revenue in the city-state – after Italy's central bank raises concerns about insufficient money-laundering safeguards.

By NICOLE WINFIELD/The Associated Press

(Continued from page 1)

click image to enlarge

People queue to enter the Vatican Museums at the Vatican earlier this month. It's "cash only" now for tourists at the Vatican wanting to pay for museum tickets, souvenirs and other services after Italy's central bank decided to block electronic payments, including credit cards, at the tiny city-state.

2013 File Photo/The Associated Press

In 2010, Italian financial police seized $30.5 million and Rome prosecutors placed the IOR's then-president and general director under investigation for alleged violations of Italy's anti-money laundering norms in conducting a routine transaction from an IOR account at an Italian bank. The money was eventually returned. The men technically remain under investigation but, two years on, haven't been charged.

Then last year, under pressure from the Bank of Italy, JPMorgan closed its IOR accounts. Now, Deutsche Bank has halted its 15-year term providing electronic payment services to the Vatican.

Bruelhart was asked why the Vatican's efforts with Moneyval don't seem to have appeased the Bank of Italy. "Maybe I'm not the person to whom you should ask that question," he said. "I would ask the Bank of Italy."

In its statement last week, the central bank said its recent actions targeting the Vatican were merely designed "to increase the awareness of all banks established in Italy with the regard to the need to apply the current anti-money-laundering legislation in their dealings with the IOR."

The Vatican has said it is in contact with various service providers to restart credit card operations, and says it foresees the interruption "will be brief."

That said, an advisory posted on the website of the Vatican Museums says that as of Jan. 1, visitors can no longer pay for tickets via ATM or credit card. "We apologize for the inconvenience," it reads.

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