German lawyer headhunted to lead Vatican Bank

After a long recruitment search, a German lawyer has been headhunted to become president of the Vatican Bank, an institution troubled in the past by scandal and more recently by complaints about inadequate safeguards against money-laundering.

Ernst von Freyberg is currently chairman of the Blohm+Voss Group, a Hamburg-based company that builds and repairs yachts and ocean liners.

The multilingual von Freyberg is active in the Knights of Malta, a lay Catholic religious order and a worldwide humanitarian network offering free medical care and other services. He is also a co-leader of an association that organises pilgrimages to Lourdes.

At the announcement of the appointment, Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi was caught off-guard when a reported pointed out that the Blohm+Voss Group is part of a consortium that is currently building frigates for the German navy.

The firm’s website also lists frigates, destroyers and patrol boats designed in the past for the navies of Nigeria, Argentina, Portugal and Germany.

Later a Vatican statement said von Freyberg had nothing to do with the military part of Blohm+Voss.

Von Freyberg replaces Ettore Gotti Tedeschi, who was forced out as president of the bank — formally known as the Institute for Religious Works — last May for incompetence.

He assumes the leadership of an institution that has been the focus of considerable controversy in recent months. European banking authorities have charged that the bank does not maintain adequate safeguards to prevent money-laundering.

In July, a European anti-money laundering committee said it failed to meet all its standards on fighting money-laundering, tax evasion and other financial crimes.

The report by Moneyval, a monitoring committee of the 47-nation Council of Europe, found the Vatican passed nine of 16 “key and core” aspects of its financial dealings.


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National Catholic Reporter

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