HOW DOES A BANK BE­COME IN­VIS­I­BLE?

World of Knowledge (Australia) - - History -

Be­fore this day in 1942, none of the car­di­nals even knew the room ex­isted. Be­hind the heavy doors is a long ta­ble. A stout man with a beard sits at its head. His ex­pres­sion is se­ri­ous. Bernardino Nog­ara is a fi­nan­cial ad­vi­sor to the Vat­i­can, as well as the or­gan­i­sa­tion’s trea­surer – and what he’s about to say will change the Catholic Church for­ever. “Hitler will lose the war,” he ex­claims, be­fore go­ing on to in­sist that some­thing needs to be done quickly to pre­vent the Church’s trea­sures in Ger­many be­com­ing the Al­lies’ spoils of war.

A few days later, on 27th June, that some­thing hap­pened. Nog­ara con­vinced Pius XII to out­source the Vat­i­can bank un­der the name In­sti­tute for Works of Re­li­gion (IOR) – trans­form­ing the harm­less as­set man­age­ment sys­tem of the Church into a net­work that branched into more than 70 banks within a few years. It was a bril­liant move that made the Vat­i­can bank vir­tu­ally in­vis­i­ble as a fi­nan­cial in­sti­tu­tion, mean­ing large amounts of money could be moved across bor­ders dur­ing the war. At the same time, Vat­i­can spec­u­la­tors un­der­mined the global econ­omy, in­vest­ing bil­lions by pur­chas­ing blocks of shares. Us­ing shell com­pa­nies, they hoarded shares in the in­surer Gen­er­ali, de­fence group Fin­mec­ca­nica, oil giant Shell, car­mak­ers Alfa Romeo and Gen­eral Mo­tors, tech firm IBM and the phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal com­pany Sereno – later one of the man­u­fac­tur­ers of the con­tra­cep­tive pill.

Why bother, you ask? In a word: cam­ou­flage. Be­cause the Vat­i­can bank no longer just looked after Church prop­erty, it had be­come a lu­cra­tive busi­ness model and the per­fect tool to laun­der money for crim­i­nal gangs around the world. The first sin of ‘God’s bank’ in­volved truck­loads of Nazi loot ap­pear­ing at its head­quar­ters in Rome…

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