At the Vatican, the Most Secretive Bank in the World
Yesterday, NPR delivered a story on the Vatican Bank, and I couldn’t help but notice that once again the talk turned extremely vague. The bank has a “muddled” history no one can possibly comprehend that goes “way back,” involving nameless “Italian bankers.” No mention of vanishing millions, Nazi collaborator Licio Gelli and his rogue Freemasons, or the murder of Roberto Calvi, Michele Sindona, Mafia, P2, not even CIA in that “muddled” history. Next time you listen to an NPR story on the bank, note how the talk suddenly deteriorates into unintelligible abstractions, censorship of a mundane grade — a conscious strategy, I suspect, for covering up the crimes of fascist reprobates with CIA ties. In the absence of particulars from status quo Corporate-Public Radio, I am forced to turn to less perky sources.
On February 11th, the Associated Press was a bit more specific in its appraisal of the Vatican bank’s current headaches. Benedict “wrote three encyclicals, ‘God is Love’ in 2006, ‘Saved by Hope’ in 2007 and ‘Charity in Truth’ in 2009. The latter was perhaps his best known as it called for a new world financial order guided by ethics that was published in the throes of the global financial meltdown. Benedict’s call, however, would strike some as hypocritical when a year later the Holy See’s top two banking officials were placed under investigation in a money laundering probe that resulted in the seizure of millions of euros from a Vatican Bank account. The money was later released after Benedict, the Vatican’s top legislator, amended the city state’s legal code to comply with international norms to fight money laundering and terror financing.” Terror financing and money laundering constitute small deviations from Ratzinger’s “God is Love” encyclicals. May God’s love take the Vatican’s tainted right-wing bankers to Guantanamo, where a Cheney Waterboard might well sort out the murky details. – AC
“ … ‘Vatican observers believe a steady barrage of scandals — not the least of those over financial transparency — took a toll on a formidable theologian, who came to the throne of St. Peter on a mission to reinvigorate the church,’ and that this contributed to the Pope’s decision to resign. … “
At the Vatican, the Most Secretive Bank in the World
By Rick Cohen
Nonprofit Quarterly, February 21, 2013
Until the first-ever press visit to the Vatican bank last year, it was “the most secret building in the ‘city of secrets,’” according to John Hooper of the Guardian. It was also the “most secret bank in the world” in the estimation of former U.S. Treasury official Avi Jorisch. The Vatican bank, otherwise known as the Institute for Works of Religion, has 33,000 accounts with about $8.3 billion in assets, operates in 100 countries, and offers the option of conducting financial transactions in Latin, even at ATMs. With its surpluses devoted entirely to religion and charity, it may well be the largest nonprofit bank in the world and it is certainly the most secretive. Some have questioned whether the bank may even have been one of the factors behind Pope Benedict XVI’s stunning decision to retire at the end of the month.
The Vatican bank has been involved in numerous mysteries and scandals since it was established in 1942 by Pope Pius XII to handle the Vatican’s finances. For instance, Roberto Calvi, sometimes referred to as “God’s banker,” was found dead in 1982, hanging from a bridge in London. That homicide case remains a mystery. On the scandal front, the Vatican bank was recently in the news following the arrest of an Italian priest and a Ferrari-driving lawyer who have been charged with defrauding insurance companies and using the Vatican bank to hide the loot.
According to Anthony Faiola, writing for the Washington Post, Pope Benedict has been trying to insert a dollop of transparency into the workings of the Vatican bank without huge success. For a time last month, the government of Italy barred Italian banks from business transactions with the Vatican due to the Vatican’s lack of financial transparency. Because of Italy’s membership in the European Union, it really cut the Vatican and its bank off from doing business with other banks throughout the EU. As a result, until the Vatican found a non-EU financial institution in Switzerland to work through, the Vatican lost access to credit card processing at its tourist sites like the Sistine Chapel.
To his credit, Pope Benedict XVI tried to insert some sunshine into the bank’s operations, but he reportedly ran into a political wall. When the former president of the bank, Ettore Gotti Tedeschi, was fired by the bank, he ominously alleged, according to Faiola, that his dismissal was a result of his getting “too close to the truth.” In one of the last major governmental decisions before he will leave the papacy, Pope Benedict has approved the decision of the College of Cardinals to fill the top Vatican bank post with Ernst von Freyberg, a German lawyer, member of the Knights of Malta, and the founder of a family foundation (Freyberg Stiftung) which supports Catholic groups in Germany, Austria, and France.
According to Faiola, “Vatican observers believe a steady barrage of scandals — not the least of those over financial transparency — took a toll on a formidable theologian, who came to the throne of St. Peter on a mission to reinvigorate the church,” and that this contributed to the Pope’s decision to resign. Faiola says that Italian prosecutors investigating financial crimes encounter the bank’s “haughty resistance to European Union laws” and routinely find their communications unanswered or rejected. In 2010, Benedict issued a papal letter forbidding money laundering and established an independent Vatican watchdog, the Financial Intelligence Authority. Nonetheless, the bank’s dismissal of Ettore Gotti Tedeschi may point to elements of the secrecy of the Vatican that even the Pope himself couldn’t successfully undo.
Pope fell short in cleaning up finances
By Mark Thompson
CNNMoney, February 11, 2013
Pope Benedict made cleaning up the Vatican’s reputation for shady money one of his priorities, beefing up the city-state’s laws and hiring a top Swiss financial crime fighter to raise standards to international levels.
Independent experts say much progress has been made in a short period of time. But the Pope resigns with the Vatican still falling well short of its goal of inclusion on a “white list” of states and embroiled in an embarrassing row with the Bank of Italy.
In 2010, the Vatican created a supervisory body, the Financial Information Authority (FIA), and drafted a new law to make sure all departments met international standards on money laundering and terrorism financing. But a 2012 report by European anti-money laundering group Moneyval found the Vatican still failing to measure up in seven of 16 key areas. Also in 2012, Gotti Tedeschi was removed as head of the Vatican bank, or Institute for Works of Religion as it is formally known.
In response to the Moneyval report, the Vatican appointed lawyer Rene Bruelhart to head the FIA and lead its push for greater transparency. Bruelhart had previously fulfilled a similar role in Liechtenstein, the principality sandwiched between Switzerland and Austria.
The Vatican has been trying for years to raise its game and throw off a reputation for murky financial dealings that dates back at least 30 years, to the death in London of Roberto Calvi, known as “God’s banker”. Calvi was found hanging from a bridge and his death has never been fully explained. He was chairman of Banco Ambrosiano, in which the Vatican bank held a small stake.
The Vatican bank serves the 500-or-so inhabitants of the world’s smallest state, but also thousands of Catholic charities, religious orders and dioceses around the world. It has some 33,400 accounts. Vatican transactions are conducted in euros.
Moneyval found the threat of financial crime at the Vatican to be very low. But it said the bank’s global reach, high volume of cash transactions and a lack of information about some non-profit organizations could make it a target for money-launderers.
“Further important issues still need addressing in order to demonstrate that a fully effective regime has been instituted in practice,” the report stated.
The Bank of Italy cited the Moneyval report when it moved to close down credit and debit card payments at Vatican shops and museums at the end of last year, leaving tourists dependent on cash to buy souvenirs and tickets for attractions such as the Sistine Chapel.
Interviewed by an Italian newspaper shortly after the central bank’s action, Bruelhart expressed surprise and said the Vatican had implemented all measures required by the European Union, and in some cases adopted even tougher standards.