Pope Francis attends the IOR (Institute for Religious Works) Vatican Bank's council, at the Vatican, Nov. 24, 2015.
Pope Francis attends the IOR (Institute for Religious Works) Vatican Bank's council, at the Vatican, Nov. 24, 2015.

A European anti-money laundering watchdog says the Vatican has made great strides in addressing its scandal-plagued bank, but has not done enough on the judicial front.

In a report issued Tuesday, the Council of Europe's Moneyval committee praised the Vatican for taking such steps as closing nearly 5,000 accounts in the Institute for Religious Works, its troubled bank, since the committee last evaluated the Holy See in 2012.

However, Moneyval criticized the fact that there have been no prosecutions or indictments. "There is a need now for the anti-money laundering and counter terrorist financing system to deliver effective results in terms of prosecutions, convictions and confiscation,” the report stated. It also urged the Vatican to ensure that its police force and prosecutor's office have the capacity to “conduct proactive financial investigations."

Separately, Council of Europe Secretary General Thorbjorn Jagland welcomed “the progress the Holy See has made in a number of areas since 2012,” but urged Vatican  authorities to take into account “Moneyval’s recommendations and to deliver some real results in the money laundering investigations being conducted”.

FILE - Rene Brulhart, director of the Financial In
FILE - Rene Brulhart (L), director of the Financial Information Authority, an institution established to monitor the monetary and commercial activities of Vatican agencies, and Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi, are seen at the Vatican, May 22, 2013.

Probes underway

Vatican prosecutors have launched 29 investigations, about half of them this year, into suspected money-laundering and frozen about $12.1 million as part of their efforts to prevent illicit activity at the Vatican's scandal-marred bank, Moneyval said.

Following Moneyval’s rules, the Holy See must present an update on action taken to implement the committee's recommendations by December 2017.

The Vatican submitted itself to the Moneyval evaluation process after it signed on to the 2009 EU Monetary Convention. The move was part of the Holy See's efforts to change its image as a financially shady tax haven whose bank has long been embroiled in scandal.

Moneyval is the abbreviation for the Council of Europe's Strasbourg-based Committee of Experts on the Evaluation of Anti-Money Laundering Measures and the Financing of Terrorism.  It evaluates how member states' financial legislation and practices comply with international standards for combating money laundering and other financial crimes.

Italian journalists Gianluigi Nuzzi, right, and Em
FILE - Italian journalists Gianluigi Nuzzi (R) and Emiliano Fittipaldi, authors of two books on financial wrongdoings at the Vatican, talk to reporters outside Vatican City's Perugino gate, Nov. 24, 2015.

Leak scandal

Moneyval's latest report comes as the Vatican faces criticism for pursuing the prosecution of three former officials and two journalists over leaked classified documents that revealed waste, greed and mismanagement at the highest levels of the Catholic Church hierarchy.

Two Italian journalists - Gianluigi Nuzzi and Emiliano Fittipaldi - published two books last month detailing corruption and uncontrolled spending by the Vatican, substantiating their revelations with documents leaked from within the Holy See.

The books, which made headlines in Italian newspapers, detailed millions of euros in lost rental income from the Vatican's real estate holdings, millions in missing inventory from the Vatican's tax-free department store, supermarket and pharmacy, and huge spending by monsignors and cardinals.