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Cash-only for visitors to the Vatican

By The Citizen
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Earlier this week, Italian authorities banned electronic payments - including credit and debit cards - as well as most ATM withdrawals in the tiny city-state of Vatican.

According to news reports, the Italian central bank, Banca d'Italia, suspended electronic payments at the start of January because the Holy See has not yet complied with European Union (EU) regulations to combat money laundering. As such, Italian banks, including the Vatican's main operator, Deutsche Bank's Italian unit, are not authorized to transact in Vatican City.

The move has left thousands of Vatican visitors and pilgrims scrambling to find alternate ways to pay for popular sites, including Vatican Museums, as well as souvenirs, gifts and meals. Besides investments and donations, memorabilia and ticket sales are the main source of revenue for the city-state; museums and shops in Vatican City typically enjoy yearly sales of more than 76.6 million euros, and Vatican museums accounted for another 91 million euros in sales in 2011, according to the Holy See.

In recent years the Vatican has come under scrutiny for tax evasion and money laundering , prompting the inquiry that resulted in this ban. The privately-held Vatican bank, Institute for Works of Religion (IOR), located inside Vatican City, has been at the centre of several financial scandals in recent years, and has been under investigation since 2010 for allegedly omitting data in wire transfers from an Italian account.

As a result of the investigation, Italian authorities have pressured the city-state to enforce EU financial regulations and boost transparency. EU officials have said the Vatican is making progress, but until Vatican City is compliant with European financial regulations, Italian authorities have instituted the electronic payment ban.

Vatican authorities are working to lift the suspension as soon as possible, but until they do, tourists, many of whom are travelling with limited cash, are being left in the lurch.