Australian police get information on alleged Vatican funds transfer amid Pell case

MELBOURNE (Reuters) – Australia’s financial crimes watchdog said it had handed information to police about the alleged transfer of Vatican funds to Australia amid the prosecution of former Vatican treasurer George Pell for child sex abuse.

Italian media recently reported that Pell’s nemesis, Italian Cardinal Angelo Becciu, sent 700,000 euros ($828,100) to Australia to help Pell’s “enemies” while Pell was facing sexual assault charges. Becciu’s lawyer has denied the reports.

The head of the Australian Transaction Reports and Analysis Centre (AUSTRAC) told a Senate committee on Tuesday that the agency had probed the allegations and given information to the Australian Federal Police (AFP) and state police.

“I can confirm AUSTRAC has looked into the matter and we’ve provided information to the AFP and to Victoria Police,” AUSTRAC Chief Executive Nicole Rose told a Senate Estimates committee hearing on Tuesday, when asked whether it had investigated the alleged Vatican funds transfer.

The AFP and Victoria Police had no comment on the matter on Wednesday.

Pell was acquitted by Australia’s High Court in April after serving 13 months in jail on charges he assaulted two choirboys. His lawyer said the Italian media reports on the alleged transfer of Vatican funds must be probed.

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“If one is to give any credence to what has been alleged, then it is critical that all proper money tracing exercises be undertaken,” Pell’s lawyer, Robert Richter, told Reuters on Oct. 5.

Italian media have reported that the alleged wire transfer may have been used to “buy” the accusers in Pell’s trial.

Pell’s accuser in the sexual assault case said through his lawyer that “he has no knowledge of any payments allegedly made by the Vatican to Australia”.

His lawyer, Viv Waller, also said she had no knowledge of any payments nor any investigation into alleged payments.

“I have not been contacted by Victoria Police, the Australian Federal Police or AUSTRAC,” Waller said in emailed comments.

When Pell was economy minister, in charge of overhauling the Vatican’s finances, he ran into strong opposition from Becciu, who was number two in the Vatican’s Secretariat of State.

The Pope fired Becciu on accusations of embezzlement and nepotism in September. Becciu has denied all wrongdoing.

After Becciu was sacked, Pell said: “The Holy Father was elected to clean up Vatican finances. He plays a long game and is to be thanked and congratulated on recent developments.”

Pell returned to Rome on Sept. 30 for the first time since 2017. He held a meeting with the Pope on Oct. 12.

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