Not since it was revealed that the Vatican’s financial advisor, Michele Sindona, was a Mafia connected crook who had embezzled 20 million quid of the Holy Father’s piggy bank has there been such a catastrophic financial insult to the Catholic Church.
HSBC has announced that it would ‘prefer not to have’ the financial business of some 40 diplomatic accounts – including that of the Apostolic Nunciature in Britain. It has given them 60 days to take their business elsewhere. Trouble is – ‘elsewhere’ doesn’t want their business either. The major banks have closed ranks and declined to open accounts for those affected. Few names have been released, beyond the Apostolic Nunciature (effectively the Vatican’s embassy in London), the High Commission for Papua New Guinea, and the embassy of Benin – interesting both predominantly Roman Catholic countries.
There have been several major incidents in the housing of the Pope’s piggy bank in the past few weeks. Three days ago, Ernst von Freyberg, president of the Vatican bank – more properly known as the Institute for the Works of Religion (IOR), launched a new web site, apparently in a bid to display ‘transparency’ in the Vatican’s financial affairs. Michele Sindona was not the last of the ‘crooks’ handling Vatican money – last year Ettore Gotti Tedeschi, head of the bank was detained and his home searched by Italian police investigating for the second time allegations of money laundering.
In 2012 JP Morgan Chase closed a Vatican account in Milan after the IOR was ‘unable to respond’ to questionable money transfers; in 2010, Italian authorities seized £20 million from a Vatican account at Italy’s Credito Artigiano Spa, following allegations that the IOR violated anti-money-laundering laws. The money was released after the Bank promised to pass measures to comply with the international standards on money laundering and terrorism financing. It was only at the end of July this year that the allegation against Tedeschi was formally dropped.
In July of this year, the bank’s director and deputy director both resigned after a prelate, who was an account holder, was arrested by Italian authorities in June on charges of fraud, corruption and slander.
Pope Francis appointed a special commission to review the activities and mission of the Vatican bank. Ernst Von Freyberg told Vatican Radio this week that the Vatican bank has been working hard in recent weeks to get the institute to be ‘transparent, efficient and completely compliant’ with current regulations and standards.
No sooner had Ernst Von Freyberg declared the Vatican bank to be earnestly transparent, than Dr. Jonathan Levy, the attorney for several thousand Holocaust victims asked the European Union Ombudsman and the European Commission to assist him in his efforts to lean on Von Freyberg to allow an audit of some 30 Vatican accounts that were believed to hold laundered Holocaust era assets from the Balkans. The funds at stake were derived from gold and valuables looted from Yugoslavia during the Second World War and deposited at the Vatican Bank in 1946.
All of this was too much for HSBC, which has only recently recovered from paying the US authorities £1.32 billion in fines after it was alleged to have facilitated drug-cartel money laundering in South America.
HSBC, however, claims its decision is part of an assessment of all business customers to see if they satisfy five criteria – ‘international connectivity, economic development, profitability, cost efficiency and liquidity’.
Yeah, right! The Holy See doesn’t have international connectivity, nor economic development, profitability, cost efficiency and liquidity?
HSBC has seen the train coming down the tracks…
None of this has any possible connection with the recent US warning of Al Quaeda attacks.