University of Miami International and Comparative Law Review


It is no news that donations from the Catholic faithful reemerge from the dark underground of Church finances as lace vestments, embroidered mitres, velvet slippers, and posh mansions. A year after Pope Francis announced the overhaul of the Vatican’s antimoney laundering (AML) laws, a makeshift courtroom in the Vatican Museum witnessed the largest criminal trial in the Vatican’s modern history. At the center was Cardinal Angelo Becciu—the former No. 3 in the Vatican—for allegedly defrauding the Vatican’s investment in London real estate. After the tumbrels, now comes the reckoning: How could the Vatican mend a broken system and effectively tackle money laundering in real estate?

This Article initiates an overdue conversation about the corruption crisis in St. Peter’s. Studying the world’s smallest sovereign state yields insights applicable to the obstacles confronting the AML community at large, such as the identification of beneficial ownership, the costs for training AML personnel, and the proliferation of multijurisdictional compliance requirements. Positing a strategy for repair and renewal, this Article argues that British prosecution could share the burden for monitoring, punishing, and deterring the fiscal sins Vatican officials commit through real properties. Such a transnational assertion of prosecutorial power benefits the Vatican in three ways. First, British prosecutors have access to a more expansive AML toolkit that targets both buyer- and seller-side money laundering. By contrast, the Vatican’s infant AML framework is ill-equipped to handle that specialized task. Second, British prosecution, unburdened by the constraints of operating under an absolute monarchy, could obtain additional discovery, which in turn helps overcome the shroud of secrecy the Vatican purposefully maintains over its courtships of money. Third, the Vatican’s AML apparatus suffers from chronic understaffing, brain drain, and high turnover. A helping hand from across the Channel provides a much-needed reprieve. This Article concludes by calling attention to the implications on immunity and foreign relations.