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Credit card transactions barred in Italy's Vatican city

posted 4 Jan 2013, 04:30 by Sam Mbale   [ updated 4 Jan 2013, 04:31 ]

Italy has blocked the use of debit and credit cards in the Vatican because of concerns over lack of transparency, in a major obstacle to one of the tiny city state's biggest sources of income.

 ROMEITALY (JANUARY 4, 2013) (REUTERS) -  Tourists at the Vatican museum on Friday (January 4) were forced to pay in cash to enter, after Italy blocked the use of debit and credit cards in the Vatican because of concerns over lack of transparency.

With signs saying the Vatican could not accept credit cards were only visible once inside the Vatican, some tourists said these kind of problems should not be encountered when visiting such a famous tourist site.

"The signs inside say they do not accept credit cards. This can cause problems for people who arrive without enough cash" said Milan tourist Simone Pannozzo.

A notice posted on the Vatican Museums website said it was not possible to take electronic payments within the Vatican from January 1 "for reasons beyond the control of the Directorate of the Museums". However, the site's online ticket and souvenir payment system appeared to be unaffected.

"A tourist arriving and then you see that you can't use is really difficult. Inside a place like this it just shouldn't happen, there should be better service" said touristMariangela Oldani.

Luckily most tourists seem to have enough cash on them.

"We got cash yesterday, a lot. We have enough cash so we will be fine" said a group of Dutch tourists.

A source close to the Bank of Italy said the central bank in December denied a permit for Deutsche Bank Italy, the Vatican's previous provider of electronic payment services, because the Holy See was seen as lacking anti-money laundering controls and oversight.

The Vatican has struggled to shake off a reputation for a lack of financial transparency that dates back to 1982, when Roberto Calvi, an Italian known as "God's banker" because of his links to the Vatican, was found hanged under London's Blackfriars Bridge.

In 2012 report by Moneyval, a Council of Europe-backed committee, found serious failings in the Vatican bank, or Institute for Works of Religion, and urged it to strengthen measures to prevent money laundering and increase transparency.

A Vatican statement said only that its agreement with a bank that previously supported point-of-sale payments had expired. It said talks were under way with other service providers and the interruption to electronic payments was expected to be "of brief duration".

Deutsche Bank and the Bank of Italy also did not respond to requests for a statement on the matter.

The sale of postage stamps, memorabilia and admission tickets to the Vatican Museums, home to art treasures including Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel, constitutes the Holy See's main source of income apart from donations and investments.

In 2011, five million museum visitors brought in 91.3 million euros according to the city state's annual financial report, in which it posted its worst budget deficit in more than a decade. The report did not state what percentage income came through card payments.