The financial crimes regulator has passed information to police about allegations of money being transferred from the Vatican in relation to the trial of Cardinal George Pell.
The High Court quashed Cardinal Pell’s child sexual abuse convictions earlier in 2020.
Liberal senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells used a Senate estimates hearing to ask AUSTRAC chief executive Nicole Rose about media reports that hundreds of thousands of euros had been transferred “allegedly from Vatican funds to person or persons in Australia”.
“Yes I can confirm AUSTRAC has looked into the matter and we’ve provided information to the AFP (Australian Federal Police) and to Victoria Police,” Ms Rose told the committee.
Ms Rose said they were the only agencies AUSTRAC had referred the matter to.
Senator Fierravanti-Wells also asked the secretary of the Department of Home Affairs, Mike Pezzullo, whether he had received any requests from Cardinal Pell’s legal team for the matter to be investigated.
“I’m not aware of anything having been received by my department,” he said.
“It would not be, in the ordinary course, something that we would be approached about, it’s an operational matter.
“But I will check records just in case.”
Earlier in October, Italian newspapers reported unsubstantiated allegations that Cardinal Giovanni Angelo Becciu was suspected of wiring 700,000 euros, equivalent to $1.14 million, to Australia to help secure evidence against Cardinal Pell in his sexual abuse trial.
The ABC has not been able to independently verify the allegations.
This week Cardinal Becciu’s lawyer reiterated that his client strongly denied any interference with the trial.
“Regarding the everlasting attention of some journalists to Cardinal Pell’s trial, [Cardinal Becciu] is compelled to reiterate vigorously that he has never interfered with it in any way whatsoever,” Fabio Viglione said in an October 17 statement provided to the ABC.
“Furthermore, given the apparent will of some news organisations to falsely depict an alleged, albeit non-existent, activity to taint the evidence of Cardinal Pell’s trial, Cardinal Becciu will promptly resort to the Judicial Authorities to protect and defend his honour, so gravely damaged.”
Pell’s lawyer calls for independent investigation
Cardinal Pell’s lawyer, Robert Richter QC, has previously called for an independent investigation into the Italian media claims.
A lawyer for the former choirboy who gave evidence against Cardinal Pell in his 2018 trial denied her client received any payment.
“My client denies any knowledge or receipt of any payments,” Vivian Waller said after the Italian media reports were published.
“He won’t be commenting further in response to these allegations.”
Cardinal Pell was freed from prison in April.
In response to a query from the ABC on Tuesday night, the AFP said they did not have any information to provide.
The ABC has also sought comment from Victoria Police, Ms Waller, the Archdiocese of Sydney and representatives of Cardinal Pell following Tuesday’s hearing.