‘Software error’ blamed for huge discrepancy in Vatican money transfers to Australia
VATICAN CITY, Italy, January 15, 2020 (LifeSiteNews) – The Holy See Press Office released a statement on Wednesday clarifying recent reports documenting that over $1.7 billion (AUS $2.3 billion) had been sent from official Vatican financial bodies to Australian accounts. The Holy See claims that the shocking number was actually the result of a “software error,” and that the value of the transfers did not exceed $7.4 million.
Last month, LifeSiteNews reported on the news that the Vatican had sent $1.7 billion to accounts in Australia between 2014 and 2020, based on a statement from Australia’s financial watchdog, AUSTRAC. The money was reported to have been sent between the two nations in over 40,000 transactions. Curiously, the yearly transfer value peaked in 2017, when Cardinal George Pell left his position as prefect for the Secretariat for the Economy to face trial in his native Australia on historical child sex abuse charges.
However, after a number of weeks in collaboration with the Holy See’s Financial Information and Supervisory Authority, AUSTRAC has rescinded its previous allegation of such a high value in transfers. The Holy See Press Office, acknowledging the enormous discrepancy, announced that the reduced figure of around $7.4 million “is attributable, among other things, to a number of contractual obligations and the ordinary management of resources.” It added that The Holy See “takes this opportunity to reaffirm its respect for the country's institutions and expresses its satisfaction for the collaboration between the entities involved.” The peak in the revised transfer figures was also in 2017.
At the time of the initial reports, senior Australian clergymen expressed incredulity at the vast sums of money alleged to have been received in the country from the Vatican. Speaking to Reuters, Archbishop Mark Coleridge of Brisbane said, “I can assure you that no diocese or other Church entity saw any of the money.” Additionally, an anonymous Vatican official said “[t]hat amount of money and that number of transfers did not leave the Vatican City,” The Sydney Morning Herald reported. The anonymous source added that he was absolutely stunned by the figure, saying “It's not our money because we don't have that kind of money.”
In a statement to the Australian Senate, AUSTRAC announced that the actual value of the transfers was not $1.7 billion, but just $7.4 million, and that the money was transferred over 363 transactions, instead of the 46,000 originally reported. The financial crime regulator blamed the gross overestimation on a “computer coding error.”
The regulator reportedly discovered the error after it opened a “detailed review” of its initial findings, according to The Australian newspaper.But AUSTRAC has said that they will continue to investigate individual transfers that they suspect to be irregular.
“AUSTRAC reaffirmed its confidence in the original financial intelligence about suspicious money transfers, which are being probed by Vatican prosecutors examining hundreds of millions of dollars in fraud and money laundering,” The Australian reported.
Senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells first brought the case of suspicious financial ties between the Vatican and Australia to the Senate floor. AUSTRAC had provided the original $1.7 billion figure in answer to the senator’s investigation into financial transfers allegedly being used to influence the outcome of Pell’s trial.
Commenting on the revised figures, Fierravanti-Wells said the numbers “bring more clarity to the main issue—where did the funds go and for what purpose? The serious allegations relating to alleged use of funds in the Pell matter remain extant. The relevant law enforcement authorities need to expedite their pursuit of the facts.”
The National Catholic Register reported that not everyone found the “coding error” explanation forwarded by AUSTRAC to be entirely convincing. Catholic investment manager Matthew O’Brien told the Register that “a lot is riding on what is meant by ‘coding error.’” He added that he was “incredulous that AUSTRAC would have made a mistake of this magnitude due to a simple clerical error in a formal report to parliament.”
In O’Brien’s opinion, the “error” is likely a result of a disparity between AUSTRAC’s reporting of funds from the Vatican and The Holy See’s contention that some of those transfers were “incorrectly coded,” since they should be categorized as originating in Italy. With AUSTRAC having “coded the transfers originating from certain entities in Italy as ‘the Vatican’,”the problem seems to be agreeing on which financial entities are considered “Italian or Vatican” in origin.
O’Brien noted that certain Vatican run bodies exist outside of the Vatican itself, such as Romes’ Bambino Gesù hospital. The hospital is under Italian law and receives Italian public funding, as well as from the EU, but is run by the Vatican, the Register reports. O’Brien proposes that this kind of setup might have been included as a Vatican entity in AUSTRAC’s reporting, whereas Vatican officials might have “objected” to this classification on the grounds of the hospital operating in, and legally being incorporated in, Italy, naming the categorization a “coding error.”
Regarding the allegations that disgraced Cardinal Becciu had transferred money to Australian accounts to aid Pell’s conviction, O’Brien said that “[n]obody has produced any real evidence of bribery to date, in spite of the sensational rumors.” He speculated, however, that “[g]iven the publicly available information, [money] laundering is the best explanation.”
He noted that the transfers “are prima facie evidence of a large-scale money laundering operation, which is enough to suggest that the mafia may be involved.”