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Europe bank authorities recognise Vatican reform with own country code

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Europe bank authorities recognise Vatican reform with own country code
FILE PHOTO: General view of Pope Francis leading a Mass for the canonisation of the Pope Paul VI and El Salvador's Archbishop Oscar Romero at the Vatican October 14, 2018. REUTERS/Alessandro Bianchi/File Photo   -   Copyright  Alessandro Bianchi(Reuters)
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By Philip Pullella

VATICANCITY – The Vatican has its own vehicle licence plates and telephone code. Now, European financial authorities are granting the tiny city-state its own bank code – VA.

For an institution that has had plenty of money scandals, Vatican officials see it as a recognition it is repairing its finances.

“This is further proof that we have left the past behind,” Rene Bruelhart, the Swiss president of the Vatican’s internal regulator, the Financial Information Authority (AIF), told Reuters.

The Vatican and the Board of European Payments Council announced that the EPC had accepted the Vatican’s application to join the Single Euro Payments Area.

“To be admitted to this kind of thing you also have to have full commitment to payment service directives and to all kinds of anti-money laundering rules of the European Union,” he said. “This is quite a significant step.”

The Single Euro Payments Area, which operates under the auspices of the European Commission, harmonises the way electronic euro payments are made in Europe, making cross-border electronic payments as simple as domestic payments.

It comprises 34 countries – the 28 EU states, as well as Iceland, Norway, Liechtenstein, Switzerland, Monaco, and San Marino. The Vatican will formally join on March 1, 2019, along with Andorra, bringing the total to 36.

From then on, it will have its own country code on IBANs, or International Bank Account Number. It consists of up to 34 alphanumeric characters starting with a two-letter national code, such as IT for Italy and GB for Britain.

The Vatican, which piggybacked into the common currency with Italy in 1999, has so far depended on other banking jurisdictions, mainly Italy, for euro payments across Europe.

Getting its own IBAN code is seen as a financial emancipation from the neighbour that surrounds it.

Last year, in a move that ended years of mistrust on the part of Rome’s central bank, Italy put the Vatican on its “white list” of states with cooperative financial institutions.

Also last year, Moneyval, the monitoring body of the Council of Europe, issued a mostly positive evaluation of the Vatican’s efforts to make its finances transparent and bring them in line with international banking and accounting standards.

Pope Francis has made cleaning up Vatican finances a priority since his election in 2013.

Hundreds of suspicious or dormant accounts at the Vatican bank, officially known as the Institute for Works of Religion (IOR), have been reported or closed in recent years.

In an interview with Reuters in June, the pope, who has broadened AIF’s powers, said he was mostly happy about reforms enacted to once-scandalous Vatican finances. He said the Vatican bank “now works well”.

The VA bank code now sits alongside its separate vehicle licence plates (SCV for the pope, CV for others) and telephone code (698).

(Reporting by Philip Pullella; Editing by Alison Williams)

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