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.

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“We can’t do this again”: Labour conference reactions to Jeremy Corbyn’s second victory

Overjoyed members, determined allies and concerned MPs are divided on how to unite.

“I tell you what, I want to know who those 193,229 people are.” This was the reaction of one Labour member a few rows from the front of the stage, following the announcement of Jeremy Corbyn’s victory at the Labour party conference. She was referring to support received by his defeated contender, Owen Smith, who won 38.2 per cent of the vote (to Corbyn’s 61.8 per cent).

But it’s this focus on the leader’s critics – so vehement among many (and there are a lot of them) of his fans – that many politicians, of either side, who were watching his victory speech in the conference hall want to put an end to.

“It’s about unity and bringing us all together – I think that’s what has to come out of this,” says shadow cabinet member and MP for Edmonton Kate Osamor. “It shouldn’t be about the figures, and how many votes, and his percentage, because that will just cause more animosity.”

Osamor, who is supportive of Corbyn’s leadership, is not alone in urging her colleagues who resigned from the shadow cabinet to “remember the door is never shut”.

Shadow minister and member of Labour’s National Executive Committee (NEC) Jon Ashworth – not a Corbyn loyalist, but focusing on making the shadow cabinet work together – shares the sentiment.

Standing pensively in front of the now-empty stage, he tells me he backs shadow cabinet elections (though not for every post) – a change to party rules that has not yet been decided by the NEC. “[It] would be a good way of bringing people back,” he says. “I’ve been involved in discussions behind the scenes this week and I hope we can get some resolution on the issue.”

He adds: “Jeremy’s won, he has to recognise a number of people didn’t vote for him, so we’ve got to unite.”

The former Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett, another MP on the NEC, is sitting in the audience, looking over some documents. She warns that “it’s impossible to tell” whether those who resigned from Corbyn’s shadow cabinet would be willing to return, and is concerned about talent being wasted.

“We have a lot of excellent people in the party; there are new people now in the shadow cabinet who have had a chance to show their mettle but you need experience as well as ability,” she says.

Beckett, who has urged Corbyn to stand down in the past, hopes “everybody’s listening” to his call for unity, but questions how that will be achieved.

“How much bad blood there is among people who were told that there was plotting [against Corbyn], it’s impossible to tell, but obviously that doesn’t make for a very good atmosphere,” she says. “But Jeremy says we’ll wipe the slate clean, so let’s hope everybody will wipe the slate clean.”

It doesn’t look that way yet. Socialist veteran Dennis Skinner is prowling around the party conference space outside the hall, barking with glee about Corbyn’s defeated foes. “He’s trebled the membership,” he cries. “A figure that Blair, Brown and Prescott could only dream about. On average there’s more than a thousand of them [new members] in every constituency. Right-wing members of the parliamentary Labour party need to get on board!”

A call that may go unheeded, with fervent Corbyn allies and critics alike already straying from the unity message. The shadow justice secretary Richard Burgon is reminding the PLP that, “Jeremy’s won by a bigger margin this time”, and telling journalists after the speech that he is “relaxed” about how the shadow cabinet is recruited (not a rallying cry for shadow cabinet elections).

“If Jeremy wants to hold out an olive branch to the PLP, work with MPs more closely, he has to look very seriously at that [shadow cabinet elections]; it’s gone to the NEC but no decision has been made,” says Louise Ellman, the Liverpool MP and transport committee chair who has been critical of Corbyn’s leadership. “That might not be the only way. I think he has to find a way of working with MPs, because we’re all elected by millions of people – the general public – and he seems to dismiss that.”

“If he sees it [his victory] as an endorsement of how he’s been operating up until now, the problems which led to the election being called will remain,” Ellman warns. “If we’re going to be a credible party of government, we’ve got to reach out to the general electorate. He didn’t say anything about that in his speech, but I hope that perhaps now he might feel more confident to be able to change direction.”

Corbyn may have called for cooperation, but his increased mandate (up from his last stonking victory with 59.5 per cent of the vote) is the starkest illustration yet of the gulf between his popularity in Parliament and among members.

The fact that one attempt at a ceasefire in the party’s civil war – by allowing MPs to vote for some shadow cabinet posts – is in contention suggests this gulf is in danger of increasing.

And then where could the party be this time next year? As Osamor warns: “We should not be looking at our differences, because when we do that, we end up thinking it’s a good thing to spend our summer having another contest. And we can’t. We can’t do this again.”

Anoosh Chakelian is deputy web editor at the New Statesman.