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Friday, June 8, 2012

Vatican bank-money, mystery and monsignors

For a financial institution whose ATMs offer Latin as a language option, whose offices are below the pope's windows and where tellers work under the gaze of crucifixes, one might assume the Vatican bank would have a dispensation from earthly travails.

But new judicial woes and internal upheavals at the bank, officially known as the Institute for Works of Religion (IOR), have raised new hurdles for the Vatican, just as it entered the final stretch of years of efforts to join the international club of financial righteousness.

On May 24, in the type of corporate drama rarely seen in the Vatican, Ettore Gotti Tedeschi, 67, the Italian president of the IOR, stormed out of the bank's executive offices.

He had spoken for 70 minutes non-stop in the boardroom to defend his management but left in a huff when it became clear that the other four board members were intent on approving a no-confidence motion against him.

Gotti Tedeschi, a conservative Catholic who heads the Italian retail unit of Spain's Banco Santander, went to his car in the Sixtus V Courtyard and left the Vatican via the nearby Saint Ann's Gate, receiving a customary crisp salute by a Swiss Guard oblivious to the drama that had just unfolded.

"During the deliberations, at 4:00 p.m., you abandoned the premises of the Institute without notice and without waiting to receive notice as to the results of the no-confidence vote," says a memorandum of the meeting seen by Reuters.

A day after the astonishing arrest of the pope's butler in an affair of purloined documents, and 30 years after a Vatican-linked financier known as "God's Banker" was found hanged from a bridge in London, the last thing the Holy See needed was more headlines about its bank, housed in the 15th-century Tower of Nicholas V, which Pope Benedict can see from his bedroom window.

For the past two years the Vatican, a 108-acre sovereign city-state surrounded by Rome, has been pulling out all the stops to make the "white list" of states that comply with international standards against tax fraud and money laundering.


Recently, the T-word - transparency - had become a mantra in the Vatican, which hoped a decision by European financial institutions would soon allow it to put its bank's often murky past behind it for good.

But since May 24, the T-word has been wielded as a weapon by both Gotti Tedeschi and those who showed him the door.

"I have paid the price for transparency," Gotti Tedeschi told Reuters just a few minutes after the no-confidence vote.

Board members who voted him out said the opposite was true.

"Categorically, this action by the board had nothing to do with his promotion of transparency," said Carl Anderson, one of the five external financial experts who make up the board.

"In fact, he was becoming an obstacle to greater transparency by his inability to work with senior management," Anderson, the American head of the worldwide Catholic charity group, Knights of Columbus, told Reuters.

Another person familiar with the matter said: "It was not a question of 'let's plot the demise of this man', as Italian newspapers might lead one to believe. There were many pleas from many people saying, 'Come on, you have to start acting like a president'."

The confidential memorandum listed nine reasons for the move against Gotti Tedeschi. It accused him of failure to carry out basic duties, failing to attend board meetings, "progressively erratic personal behavior" and "exhibiting lack of prudence and accuracy in comments regarding the institute".

But the memo gave a clue to something perhaps more worrying: "Failure to provide any formal explanation for the dissemination of documents last known to be in the president's possession."

The careful wording appeared to be used so as not to accuse Gotti Tedeschi of personally leaking documents but suggesting they may have reached the media through an intermediary.


Gotti Tedeschi's abrupt departure came one day after Pope Benedict's butler, Paolo Gabriele, was arrested in the most clamorous chapter so far of the so-called "Vatileaks" scandal, in which sensitive documents have appeared in the media since January, including some related to the IOR's transparency bid.

That bid began late in 2010, when the Vatican, the world's smallest state, with around 500 residents, drafted new financial transparency laws and set up internal regulations to make sure its bank and all other departments adhered to international standards on money laundering and terrorism financing.

The move was an attempt to make the "white list" of the Paris-based Financial Action Task Force (FATF), a body that lists states according to their compliance with those standards.

The Vatican established an internal Financial Information Authority (FIA) along the lines of other countries and promised to liaise with the FATF and law enforcement agencies.

But leaked documents appeared to show a conflict among top Vatican officials over just how transparent the bank should be about its dealings before the new laws came into force in 2011.

Continue reading - Reuters - Insight: Vatican bank-money, mystery and monsignors

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