Vatican bank is closing its foreign branches

Scandal hits close to home.

The Vatican is set to reform its bank by closing all its accounts in its foreign embassies.

After Vatican missions in Indonesia, Iran and Iraq made withdrawals from the accounts of up to €500,000 at a time under disconcertingly vague pretences such as "personnel" and "refurbishment", a Vatican watchdog has suggesting closing all such accounts.

It’s good news for the religious to see God taking an interest in fiscal prudence. The need for better banking standards now has a whole new mandate: that of the kingdom of heaven. For those less pious it’s refreshing to see one of the world’s most arcane institutions making a stand against a less than glorious history of secretive banking.

The Institute for Religious Works, as the bank is known, holds about €7.1bn in assets under its management and has previously been beset by controversy. As Reuters reported earlier this year, Ernst von Freyberg, a German lawyer hired in February to run the IOR, told colleagues that embassy accounts were potentially dangerous, and that he wanted to close them. The Vatican secretariat stepped in and quashed the investigation for fear of damaging diplomatic relations.

In contrast with such desperate measures, this news shows how being open and honest is in everyone’s interests. It’s perhaps no surprise a bank with multiple international branches and which is beyond state law is a potential target for money laundering and other illicit finances. With 19,000 account holders in states considered high risk by many international authorities, the Holy See’s private bank is an apt vehicle for forbidden financial fruits.

But in standing up to the traditionally intransigent institutions encased inside St Peter’s, Pope Francis can send a message far beyond Rome’s hallowed walls.

"If [Pope Francis] pulls off a restructuring of the IOR and gives it real oversight and transparency, it would go a long way towards convincing people that he's serious about reform," said Vatican analyst, John Thavis, to Reuters.

Von Freyberg is keen to emphasise how transparent and compliant the bank is becoming and crucially that it’s clearly in its best interests. Speaking to Vatican Radio he said those reading the latest report would "see a rather conservatively managed financial institution safeguarding assets, investing in very conservative investments like government bonds and bank deposits.

And you will see an institution highly capitalised. At the end of last year our equity ratio was 15 per cent, which is way above comparable financial institutions would have."

Encouraging responsible banking and setting an example proves fiscal cleanliness really is next to godliness.

Alex Matchett is a writer for Spear's

This piece first appeared on Spear's Magazine

Photograph: Getty Images

This is a story from the team at Spears magazine.

Getty
Show Hide image

Labour is launching a stealthy Scottish comeback - thanks to Jeremy Corbyn and the Daily Mail

The Scottish Labour strategy is paying off - and hard evidence that it works may be more plentiful come 8 June 2017

When I suggested to a senior Scottish Labour figure earlier this year that the party was a car crash, he rejected my assertion.

“We’re past that,” he said gloomily. “Now we’re the burnt-out wreck in a field that no-one even notices anymore.”

And yet, just as the election campaign has seen Jeremy Corbyn transformed from an outdated jalopy into Chitty Chitty Bang Bang magically soaring in the polls, Scottish Labour is beginning to look roadworthy again.

And it’s all down to two apparently contradictory forces – Corbyn and The Daily Mail.

Kezia Dugdale’s decision to hire Alan Roden, then the Scottish Daily Mail’s political editor, as her spin doctor in chief last summer was said to have lost her some party members. It may win her some new members of parliament just nine months later.

Roden’s undoubted nose for a story and nous in driving the news agenda, learned in his years at the Mail, has seen Nicola Sturgeon repeatedly forced to defend her government record on health and education in recent weeks, even though her Holyrood administration is not up for election next month.

On ITV’s leaders debate she confessed that, despite 10 years in power, the Scottish education system is in need of some attention. And a few days later she was taken to task during a BBC debate involving the Scottish leaders by a nurse who told her she had to visit a food bank to get by. The subsequent SNP attempt to smear that nurse was a pathetic mis-step by the party that suggested their media operation had gone awry.

It’s not the Tories putting Sturgeon on the defence. They, like the SNP, are happy to contend the general election on constitutional issues in the hope of corralling the unionist vote or even just the votes of those that don’t yet want a second independence referendum. It is Labour who are spotting the opportunities and maximising them.

However, that would not be enough alone. For although folk like Dugdale as a person – as evidenced in Lord Ashcroft’s latest polling - she lacks the policy chops to build on that. Witness her dopey proposal ahead of the last Holyrood election to raise income tax.

Dugdale may be a self-confessed Blairite but what’s powering Scottish Labour just now is Jeremy Corbyn’s more left-wing policy platform.

For as Brexit has dropped down the agenda at this election, and bread and butter stuff like health and education has moved centre stage, Scots are seeing that for all the SNP’s left wing rhetoric, after 10 years in power in Holyrood, there’s not a lot of progressive policy to show for it.

Corbyn’s manifesto, even though huge chunks of it won’t apply in Scotland, is progressive. The evidence is anecdotal at the moment, but it seems some Scots voters find it more attractive than the timid managerialism of the SNP. This is particularly the case with another independence referendum looking very unlikely before the 2020s, on either the nationalists' or the Conservatives' timetable.

Evidence that the Scottish Labour strategy has worked may be more plentiful come 8 June 2017. The polls, albeit with small sample sizes so best approached with caution, have Ian Murray streets ahead in the battle to defend Edinburgh South. There’s a lot of optimism in East Lothian where Labour won the council earlier in May and MSP Iain Gray increased his majority at the Scottish election last year. Labour have chosen their local candidate well in local teacher Martin Whitfield, and if the unionist vote swings behind him he could overhaul sitting MP George Kerevan’s 7,000 majority. (As we learned in 2015, apparently safe majorities mean nothing in the face of larger electoral forces). In East Renfrewshire, Labour's Blair McDougall, the man who led Better Together in 2014, can out-unionist the Tory candidate.

But, while in April, it was suggested that these three seats would be the sole focus of the Scottish Labour campaign, that attitude has changed after the local elections. Labour lost Glasgow but did not implode. In chunks of their former west of Scotland heartlands there was signs of life.

Mhairi Black’s a media darling, but her reputation as a local MP rather than a local celebrity is not great. Labour would love to unseat her, in what would be a huge upset, or perhaps more realistically go after Gavin Newlands in the neighbouring Paisley seat.

They are also sniffing Glasgow East. With Natalie McGarry’s stint as MP ending in tears – a police investigation, voting in her wedding dress and fainting in the chamber sums up her two years in Westminster – Labour ought to be in with a chance in the deprived neighbourhoods of Glasgow’s east end.

Labour in Scotland doesn’t feel like such a wreck anymore. Alan Roden’s Daily Mail-honed media nous has grabbed attention. Corbyn’s progressive policies have put fuel in the tank.

After polling day, the party will be able to fit all its Scottish MPs comfortably in a small hatchback, compared to the double decker bus necessary just a few years back.

But this general election could give the party the necessary shove to get on to the long road back.

James Millar is a political journalist and founder of the Political Yeti's Politics Podcast. He is co-author of The Gender Agenda, which will be published July 21 by Jessica Kingsley Publishing.

0800 7318496