|March 20, 2012
JP Morgan Chase is closing the Vatican bank's account with an Italian branch of the U.S. banking giant because of concerns about a lack of transparency at the Holy See's financial institution, Italian newspapers reported.
The move is a blow to the Vatican's drive to have its bank included in Europe's "white list" of states that comply with international standards against tax fraud and money-laundering.
The bank, formally known as the Institute for Works of Religion (IOR), enacted major reforms last year in an attempt to get Europe's seal of approval and put behind it scandals that have included accusations of money laundering and fraud.
Italy's leading financial daily Il Sole 24 Ore reported at the weekend that JP Morgan Chase in Milan had told the IOR of the closing of its account in a letter on Feb. 15.
The letter said the IOR's account in Italy's business capital would gradually be phased out starting on March 16 and closed on March 30.
In Milan, JP Morgan Chase declined to comment and the Vatican also had no comment. It was not possible to contact IOR officials because Monday was a holiday in the Vatican.
Il Sole said JP Morgan Chase informed the IOR that the account was being closed because the bank's Milan branch felt the IOR had failed to provide sufficient information on money transfers.
The financial newspaper, which gave the number of the IOR account, said some 1.5 billion euros passed through it in about 18 months. It said the account was a "sweeping facility," meaning that it was emptied out at the end of each day with funds transferred to another IOR account in Germany.
The closure move by JP Morgan Chase, which was also reported by two leading general newspapers on Monday - Corriere della Sera and La Stampa - was a further blow to the IOR, whose image has been tarnished by a string of scandals.