Tag Archive | MONEY





Papacy used offshore tax havens to create £500m international portfolio, featuring real estate in UK, France and Switzerland.

Few passing London tourists would ever guess that the premises of Bulgari, the upmarket jewellers in New Bond Street, had anything to do with the pope. Nor indeed the nearby headquarters of the wealthy investment bank Altium Capital, on the corner of St James’s Square and Pall Mall.

But these office blocks in one of London’s most expensive districts are part of a surprising secret commercial property empire owned by the Vatican.

Behind a disguised offshore company structure, the church’s international portfolio has been built up over the years, using cash originally handed over by Mussolini in return for papal recognition of the Italian fascist regime in 1929.

Since then the international value of Mussolini’s nest-egg has mounted until it now exceeds £500m. In 2006, at the height of the recent property bubble, the Vatican spent £15m of those funds to buy 30 St James’s Square. Other UK properties are at 168 New Bond Street and in the city of Coventry. It also owns blocks of flats in Paris and Switzerland.

The surprising aspect for some will be the lengths to which the Vatican has gone to preserve secrecy about the Mussolini millions. The St James’s Square office block was bought by a company called British Grolux Investments Ltd, which also holds the other UK properties. Published registers at Companies House do not disclose the company’s true ownership, nor make any mention of the Vatican.

Instead, they list two nominee shareholders, both prominent Catholic bankers: John Varley, recently chief executive of Barclays Bank, and Robin Herbert, formerly of the Leopold Joseph merchant bank. Letters were sent from the Guardian to each of them asking whom they act for. They went unanswered. British company law allows the true beneficial ownership of companies to be concealed behind nominees in this way.

The company secretary, John Jenkins, a Reading accountant, was equally uninformative. He told us the firm was owned by a trust but refused to identify it on grounds of confidentiality. He told us after taking instructions: “I confirm that I am not authorised by my client to provide any information.”

Research in old archives, however, reveals more of the truth. Companies House files disclose that British Grolux Investments inherited its entire property portfolio after a reorganization in 1999 from two predecessor companies called British Grolux Ltd and Cheylesmore Estates. The shares of those firms were in turn held by a company based at the address of the JP Morgan bank in New York. Ultimate control is recorded as being exercised by a Swiss company, Profima SA.

British wartime records from the National Archives in Kew complete the picture. They confirm Profima SA as the Vatican’s own holding company, accused at the time of “engaging in activities contrary to Allied interests”. Files from officials at Britain’s Ministry of Economic Warfare at the end of the war criticised the pope’s financier, Bernardino Nogara, who controlled the investment of more than £50m cash from the Mussolini windfall.

Nogara’s “shady activities” were detailed in intercepted 1945 cable traffic from the Vatican to a contact in Geneva, according to the British, who discussed whether to blacklist Profima as a result. “Nogara, a Roman lawyer, is the Vatican financial agent and Profima SA in Lausanne is the Swiss holding company for certain Vatican interests.” They believed Nogara was trying to transfer shares of two Vatican-owned French property firms to the Swiss company, to prevent the French government blacklisting them as enemy assets.

Earlier in the war, in 1943, the British accused Nogara of similar “dirty work”, by shifting Italian bank shares into Profima’s hands in order to “whitewash” them and present the bank as being controlled by Swiss neutrals. This was described as “manipulation” of Vatican finances to serve “extraneous political ends”.

The Mussolini money was dramatically important to the Vatican’s finances. John Pollard, a Cambridge historian, says in Money and the Rise of the Modern Papacy: “The papacy was now financially secure. It would never be poor again.”

From the outset, Nogara was innovative in investing the cash. In 1931 records show he founded an offshore company in Luxembourg to hold the continental European property assets he was buying. It was called Groupement Financier Luxembourgeois, hence Grolux. Luxembourg was one of the first countries to set up tax-haven company structures in 1929. The UK end, called British Grolux, was incorporated the following year.

When war broke out, with the prospect of a German invasion, the Luxembourg operation and ostensible control of the British Grolux operation were moved to the US and to neutral Switzerland.

The Mussolini investments in Britain are currently controlled, along with its other European holdings and a currency trading arm, by a papal official in Rome, Paolo Mennini, who is in effect the pope’s merchant banker. Mennini heads a special unit inside the Vatican called the extraordinary division of APSA – Amministrazione del Patrimonio della Sede Apostolica – which handles the so-called “patrimony of the Holy See”.

According to a report last year from the Council of Europe, which surveyed the Vatican’s financial controls, the assets of Mennini’s special unit now exceed €680m (£570m).

While secrecy about the Fascist origins of the papacy’s wealth might have been understandable in wartime, what is less clear is why the Vatican subsequently continued to maintain secrecy about its holdings in Britain, even after its financial structure was reorganized in 1999.

The Guardian asked the Vatican’s representative in London, the papal nuncio, archbishop Antonio Mennini, why the papacy continued with such secrecy over the identity of its property investments in London. We also asked what the pope spent the income on. True to its tradition of silence on the subject, the Roman Catholic church’s spokesman said that the nuncio had no comment.

Source: www.guardiannews.com







Unbridled capitalism has become a predator, demanding ever-increasing vigilance.

In the wake of the financial crisis, there was a momentof hope that predatory businesses would no longer be able to pick at our bones like vultures. Instead, we’ve seen Dodd-Frank weakened and stalled, and the newly created Consumer Financial Protection Bureau stymied at every turn. In the latest round, Republicans are thwarting the confirmation of Richard Cordray to lead the Bureau. Meanwhile, we continue to get fleeced. Here are a few egregious scams to watch out for, along with ways to protect yourself.

1. Auto-renewal scams

The rip-off: You sign up for a product or service for a limited time period. Then, long after that time has passed, you notice mysterious charges appearing on your credit card bill. Very likely, you have been the victim of the auto-renewal/automatic billing scam. Somewhere in the fine print of the terms you agreed to was a note saying that your credit card would be charged whether you decided to continue or not. But of course, you didn’t see it, because the company didn’t want you to. This is a blatant scam, and a very common one, generating big bucks for many well-known companies, including Match.com, XM Satellite Radio and DirecTV. Time Warner has come under fire for screwing customers on magazine subscriptions, and GoDaddy, the domain registrar, is another notorious offender.

The remedy: With a little knowledge and persistence, you can fight back. In some states, like New York, it is totally illegal for a company to do auto-renewing on your credit card without notifying you in advance in writing. Find out what the law is in your state, then call the company and ask to speak to a supervisor. If the supervisor pretends that the law doesn’t apply (which they probably will) and refuses to refund you, then ask to be connected to the corporate or legal departments. Tell them that if you don’t get resolution, you will be filing a complaint with the Better Business Bureau (which will contact the company) and also with your state attorney general’s office. Often the company will change its tune and refund your money. The law is not on their side: The giant company Bloomberg, provider of financial data was successfully sued for pulling this fast one.

2. The out-of-network doctor trap

The rip-off: You need medical treatment. You dutifully check the listings from your insurance provider to choose an in-network doctor or hospital. After your treatment, you receive a surprise in your mailbox—a giant bill, perhaps for many thousands, or even tens of thousands of dollars. Why? A person involved in your treatment, unbeknownst to you, is considered out-of-network. This is the out-of-network doctor trap, a.k.a. the surprise billing scam.

This can happen in a doctor’s office for a simple scheduled procedure or in a hospital for an emergency. Sometimes it’s the assistant surgeon. Others times it’s the radiologist, pathologist or anethesiologist. In a practice called “balance billing,” you get billed the difference between what your insurance chooses to reimburse and what the provider chooses to charge. You may think that your insurer is supposed to reimburse you for 70 percent of out-of-network costs, but that really means only 70 percent of what the insurer determines is “usual, customary and reasonable.” And what does reasonable mean? Whatever the insurer says it means, which is often far less than what the out-of-network doctor decides to charge. Insurers often manipulate claims and data just to screw you: In 2009, United Health had to pay a big settlement for this type of fraud when then-New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo investigated and sued. But fines don’t stop these big insurers – the money they make from scamming is too good.

The remedy: As a precaution, always try to find out in advance whether your healthcare providers, including hospitals, clinics and other facilities, are contracted with your health plan. You can ask that a contracted provider be assigned to your care, but unfortunately, this is not always possible. Sometimes the identity of the contracted doctor — the anesthesiologist, for example — isn’t even known until the day of the service, at which point it’s often too late. Other times you’re having a medical emergency and don’t have the ability to screen for out-of-network doctors.

Fighting this scam if you get hit takes fortitude, because you’ll find that the insurers, hospitals and doctors are all blaming each other. Contact your insurer to discuss the issue, and ask to submit an appeal if they refuse to adjust the charges. Ask the doctor or facility to provide a discount on what you owe. If you can’t get any resolution, check to see what agency receives complaints in your state. (In New York, it’s the Department of Financial Services.) Make sure you keep a detailed record of all phone calls, emails and letters associated with your situation.

3. Cable TV is for suckers

The rip-off: All you really desire is basic cable, but you’ve somehow ended up with an overpriced bundle of channels featuring shows that you will never, ever watch, like “Here Comes Honey Boo Boo.” Maybe you signed up for a teaser rate, and then find that after a few months your bill has skyrocketed and you’re now signed up for every premium channel in existence. Even without the premium channels, you’re still probably getting screwed. Sports channels, for example, are extremely expensive, and you pay for them whether you watch them or not: ESPN alone adds $5 to your cable bill.

The remedy: Either call your company and get back to the basic rate, dumping the premium channels you don’t watch, or opt out altogether. Network websites often allow you to watch programs for free, and there’s lots available on YouTube. Hulu.com offers thousands of videos, TV episodes and full-length movies at no cost. At Netflix you can watch a variety of content for as little as $8 per month. If your cable TV is bundled with other services, like a landline, look for other individual providers, which are often much cheaper. (Magic Jack charges $20 per year for a landline.) Or you could just Skype for free. Cable companies count on your inertia, betting that you won’t bother to find a better rate for individual companies that provide the services you need. Prove them wrong.

4. Electronics warranty game

The rip-off: You just want to buy a freaking TV, but there’s the sales rep, trying to pressure you into purchasing an extended warranty. Warranties may seem like a prudent buy, covering a variety of failures, but they can also be a ginormous rip-off. Two-year coverage on a laptop or an air conditioner could cost you nearly as much as the product itself.

The remedy: First you’ll want to understand what kind of warranty the manufacturer provides, because sometimes they are identical. Are parts included in the repairs? Labor? Generally, the extended warranty should go into effect after the manufacturer’s warranty expires. Also, find out exactly who is providing the warranty – is it really the store or some outside entity that could disappear? Make sure you compare the cost of the extended warranty with the cost of just replacing the item. If you feel you need an extended warranty, check third-party warranty providers like SquareTrade.com, which often offer better coverage for much better prices.

5. Rent-to-own schemes

The rip-off: In tough economic times, rent-to-own can sound very alluring. No credit check required; take it home today! Millions of Americans get victimized by this scam every year, which is so ubiquitous it even has its own rap song. The customer usually ends up paying several times the retail cost for things like furniture, computers, appliances, electronics. You’ll find yourself hit with exorbitant interest rates and other surprises you didn’t bargain for. And if you can’t continue the payment, the repo man will soon be a-knocking. Rent-a-Center has frequently been cited as a company whose business model depends on preying on those down on their luck for cash-extraction.

New twist: Since the foreclosure crisis, rent-to-own schemes featuring housing have been proliferating, offering you a chance to live in the home for a specified period and then buy. Sounds good until you realize that the home you’ve moved into is really a foreclosed property a scam artist has “sold” you. Often such deals are advertised on Craigslist.

The remedy: It’s best to avoid these schemes altogether, but if you must, make sure you get explicit information about interest rates and other fees. Look up any rent-to-own service on the Better Business Bureau to see if complaints have been lodged. In the case of housing, never sign any agreement unless you have shown it to a lawyer. The paperwork should be clear on what happens to money paid if you decide not to purchase the home.

6. Bank fees for the 99%

The rip off: Banks have been increasingly passing on the costs of fines they receive for wrongdoing to customers, and generally concocting new ways to rip us off since the financial crisis. Every time regulators try to crack down on a specific fee, like overdraft charges, they simply change tactics and invent another fee. Customers now find themselves smacked with large fees when their balance dips below an arbitrarily assigned minimum. There are fees for excess activity, fees for not enough activity, special fees for “maintenance,” and the list goes on.

The remedy: When your bank sends a letter — open it. It may contain information about “changes” to your account (read: fees). If you don’t understand something, call and speak to a bank representative. Sometimes the bank will offer to waive fees for things like minimum balance if you do direct deposit, but I have never liked this — it’s just a way of “capturing” you as a customer and making it harder for you to go elsewhere. Moving your money to a smaller bank or a credit union is worth exploring, but be careful. When I moved my money to Amalgamated Bank (touted as “America’s Labor Bank”) I was shocked to find that it would not give me a line of credit on my checking account because it did not use Experion, which my credit card reported to. Therefore Amalgamated deemed that I had no credit history — go figure! I was in more danger of overdraft charges there than at HSBC. Unfortunately, because banking has become an oligopoly, the entire industry has been poisoned and you’re not necessarily better off going around the corner.

Vigilance at all times is required.





If the lawlessness, poverty, and endemic corruption of Afghanistan are indicative of anything, it is that the multi-billion dollar efforts to restore stability in the region have been an abject failure.

As the scheduled 2014 reduction of American-led NATO troops moves closer, the occupying forces leave behind a state where none of their initial goals have been realized.

The Afghan central government is weak and hopelessly corrupt, the national armed forces are disorganized and resentful of foreign presence, the Taliban still wield notable influence, women remain extremely marginalized, Afghans are trapped in abject poverty, and the occupiers themselves continue to shoulder the responsibility for heavy civilian causalities.

Tens of billions have been poured into Afghanistan over the past decade, but the fact is that official figures of aid and financial resources spent in the country on paper do not come close to what was actually doled out to US proxies.

Reports confirm that tens of millions of US dollars in cash were delivered by the CIA in suitcases, backpacks and plastic shopping bags to the office of Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai since his installation in 2004.

The report states that the ‘ghost money’ paid to Karzai’s office was not subject to oversight and restrictions placed on official American aid or the CIA’s formal assistance programs, and much of it went to “warlords and politicians, many with ties to the drug trade and in some cases the Taliban.”

The report also cites an anonymous US official who claimed, “The biggest source of corruption in Afghanistan was the United States.” These revelations should not only raise the eyebrows of US taxpayers – the disingenuous reality of American funds finding their way into the pockets of the Taliban should raise blood pressures.

Karzai issued statements confirming the allegations, but insisted that the funds given were “small” and “used for good causes,” such as helping wounded civilians and paying house rents. If these assertions were true, there is no reason why such money would need to travel through covert channels, thus preventing any form of accountability toward appropriation of those funds. 

Karzai’s retort seems more like nervous obfuscation rather than a genuine explanation; he also fails to address allegations that the money was used to fuel rampant corruption.

Even with all the financial resources at Karzai’s disposal, the situation on the ground suggests that the enormous application of funds to social development projects have been poorly implemented.Americans were told that the occupation of Afghanistan was supposed to bring stability and democracy to the country, and despite the presence of international aid groups, the dolling out tens of millions of covert CIA funds (for ‘good purposes’ of course), over $3.5 billion in humanitarian funds and over $58 billion in development assistance, Afghanistan has the world’s third highest infant mortality rate and the country faces vast humanitarian challenges.

The misuse and embezzlement of development funds have left the rural majority with little option but to cultivate poppy, creating the world’s first economy dependent on the production of a single illicit drug.


Afghanistan’s status as a narco-state isn’t simply attributable to the poor application of development aid – US-NATO forces have themselves created conditions by propping up local proxies and warlords with drug money.

From the opium-fueled CIA covert warfare of the 1980s and ’90s and since the US intervention in 2001, Washington has tolerated, enabled, and profited from drug trafficking by its Afghan allies, empowering an increasing resurgence of the Taliban in large swathes of the Afghan countryside.

Washington spent some $22 billion on Afghanistan from 2003 to 2007, mostly on military operations and preparing for their withdrawal, with only a paltry $237 million designated for agriculture. Afghanistan provides the prime ingredient for over 90 per cent of the world’s heroin supply and in recent years has emerged as one of the biggest producers of refined products as hundreds of heroin labs sprout up under the watch of NATO and the US.

The continued neglect of rural and agricultural development has made the task of dismantling the narco-state nothing sort of insurmountable.

Although the Taliban is often credited as the main benefactor of the opium trade, there is reason to believe that the Karzai government and its affiliates have been the more substantially advantaged by illicit funds. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) 2009 report, titled “Addiction, Crime and Insurgency: The Transnational Threat of Afghan Opium,”estimates that only 10-15 per cent of Taliban funding is drawn from drugs and 85 per cent comes from non-opium sources.

The report claims that of the $3.4 billion annually garnered from the drug trade, the Taliban only gets its hands on a mere 4 per cent of that total, while farmers reap 21 per cent. The majority of the drug profits end up in the hands of militias, warlords, and political kingpins supported by the US and NATO to offset the influence of the Taliban – not to mention the fact that most of the funds end up in the formal international banking system.on April 29, 2013. 

The empowerment of local proxies has enabled them to tax and protect opium traffickers and expand refineries, which led to the speedy resumption of opium production after the ban imposed by the Taliban in 2000 – and today, heroin production in Afghanistan increased 40 times since the US invasion in 2001.

Although totally outrageous, the institutional corruption and explosion in the drug trade that has occurred under the watch of US-NATO forces is hardly surprising from an occupation force that is criminal from the top down.

Where the CIA is appeasing the Afghan leadership with sacks of US dollars, testosterone-filled American soldiers make a of mockery their country by urinating on Afghan corpses, burning Korans, and massacring unarmed civilians, as seen in the famous case of Staff Sgt. Robert Bales. Don’t expect any high-ranking US or NATO official to be made answerable for these continued acts of wrongdoing. Washington is preparing to walk away, and Afghanistan looks much the same as it did after the Soviet-Mujahideen episode in the early ’90s – a ravaged country with mass instability, no infrastructure to speak of, an economy in disarray, and colorful cast of armed-characters who may seek to control Kabul after the withdrawal.


Even after the formal conclusion of international stabilization efforts, a sizable amount of US troops will remain in the country after 2014, something Russia has opposed out of concern that Afghanistan could be used as a military springboard targeting other countries in the region.

The emphasis has now shifted to equipping and training the Afghan National Army and the notoriously corrupt Afghan National Police forces, so as to enable them independently to counter terrorism and drug-related crime.

Considering the track record of the occupying forces and the distrust of Americans held by Afghan forces, there is a low probability that these efforts will succeed. The assaults on US troops by US-trained Afghan security forces reflect the discord on the ground, and the difficulty of the task at hand. Karzai has vowed to step down as Afghanistan’s sole post-Taliban head of state, with no clear successor in place, who will occupy the Presidential Palace after the April 2014presidential ballot?

Whoever takes the helm has a tremendous task ahead of them; failure to exert control over lawless provinces could see the country fall into civil war and balkanize into warlord-led territories. Afghanistan’s rural economy once flourished with orchards and food crops, and had the occupation not been an exercise in plunder and embezzlement, international aid could have developed rural infrastructure and given rise to alternative non-illicit crops. Even the cost of Obama’s 30,000-soldier surge at $30 billion per year could have developed rural areas and stifled the influence of the Taliban if meaningfully implemented, but of course, that was never the plan.

The post-2014 administration faces grave instability if it fails to boldly clean up the system, and continued US drone warfare will ensure sustained militancy as family members of victims killed in drone attacks join the Taliban and extremist groups seeking retribution.

Mirroring the situation in Iraq, US-led forces will leave behind a regime that will likely be privy to Iranian influence. China will also play a more significant role in Afghan stabilization efforts after 2014. Beijing and Kabul cut a deal in September 2012 that would see China replace NATO in the training, funding and arming the 149,000-strong Afghan police as part of increased Sino-Afghan cooperation in combating regional terrorism.

China would be greatly disadvantaged if Afghanistan fragmented into a hub for international terrorism, which would increase security concerns in its western Muslim-majority Xinjiang region, an area already vulnerable to destabilization. The dragon is set to replace the eagle as Beijing is increasing its involvement in the Afghan economy through multi-billion dollar Chinese projects. 

Stabilization efforts are a lot to shoulder – the Chinese approach would be incremental and bare little similarity to the model employed by the Americans.

There may be grounds for restrained optimism in thinking about Afghanistan’s future if Beijing succeeds where Washington has failed by proving to be a less-parasitic partner in development and stabilization.





I was pondering the question: ‘If there was a panacea for the challenges we all face, what would it be?’

My research was already steering me towards the idea of localization, but when I watched the movie The Economics of Happiness produced by Helena Norberg-Hodge, I became convinced.

It seems obvious to me that the only people for whom the present system works for is the elite and wealthy. And they don’t seem to be a particularly jolly bunch so I’m not sure I’d want to emulate them. More and more people are becoming impoverished, slipping out of the system through cuts and recession; it’s only a matter of time before enough of them reach the pain threshold that they will eventually revolt a la ‘Arab Spring’ style.

Unfortunately all those not affected yet are all hoping some bright spark is going to come up with an answer that allows everything to stay the same, while the moral dilemmas and environmental challenges neatly disappear. It ain’t going to happen but in the meantime they’re carrying on in a state of denial ( and usually pointing fingers of blame away from the path of their own apathy) It’s time for those who’ve lost faith in capitalism to rewrite the business software.

So is localism really the panacea we’re looking for?

Society is transforming and maturing, moving towards an era of more collaboration, connection and contribution. The egoic deeds are being uncovered and exposed. We’ll need to collaborate on a level never witnessed before apart from during the world wars.

But instead of killing each other, we’ll be contributing to each other’s well-being. And the only way to do that is to become highly connected on a local level, just as in nature and then develop a fractal-like, robust economy from there.

In other words, instead of us being deluded pawns, nothing more than units of productivity to an economic elite and us conforming to those ‘above us’ in the hope they’ll keep us safe and happy, we’re going have to break free of the chains of servitude and become self reliant. Localization is the next transformational step.

In a nutshell the present system of economics is based on two halves. One side is somebody gaining control of a once free commodity, often with the use of force or coercion, then extorting money from the rest of society so that they can buy more ‘stuff’ than the rest of us. The other half of the equation is people making the ‘stuff’ for the rich people to buy.

Fortunately they haven’t worked out how to do it with the air yet because a company like Monsanto would try to hold the world to ransom, just as they are attempting to do with food by trying to gain control of all the seeds in the world.

And if you think I’m exaggerating, don’t forget the military industrial complex, backed by governments, is killing people for profit. The wars were only an exercise for making money.

With the internet and the freedom of information which now flows peer to peer, it’s become so blindly obvious that the present economic and political systems are bankrupt morally and spiritually.

Its demise is a certainty. Once a system has failed so catastrophically it can’t be patched up and expected to overcome previous limitations.

The biggest barrier to freedom is that the present system makes people feel powerless. This is why local projects put the power back into small groups of people.

People feel that small projects are achievable, taking on Monsanto does not. If one person makes a stand and decides to initiate a local project, then support comes from people close by. Both the producer and customer become partners.

There is a social contract that if one person sacrifices his energy and time into providing a needed service or product which is of higher ecological local value, then the client promises to buy it from them. It becomes a meaningful relationship based on higher needs rather than greed.

It allows for the money to stay within the community. Buying and selling in cash and bartering is the new act of revolution because you are in effect starving the robber barons such as the banks, supermarkets and governments, of resources and saving money. It’s not being hoovered out of the communities and up the food chain.

So who is it really saving?

Let’s just look at a few of the groups and systems which building a local economy supports.

Elderly people: They remain useful for longer, having a purpose to pass on the wisdom that they’ve collected over the years is far more useful in a local economy.

The unemployed: In an economy driven by profit and aided by technology, then labor is something which must be weeded out. In a local economy which is looking to become sustainable and resilient, there is a whole green and energy industry, at the local level, waiting to be implemented and applied. It needs everyone to contribute.

The environment: Building a local economy means obviously that there will be less food miles. No need to send apples to South Africa to be waxed to then be flown back to the country of origin to line supermarket shells and coffers.

Young people: This generation has been labelled the ‘Lost Generation.’ There is plenty of local skills which would become practical again when people commit to building a sustainable and vibrant local economy.

Culture: When people work and play together they develop a local culture. The local environment that supports them shapes that culture.

Language: Building a robust local economy will lesson the need for local people to move to the big cities thereby preserving more of the traditions and language.

Ecological Diversity: Instead of monoculture farming for export to other regions, more diversity and greater yields from crop production would occur meaning a more resilient ecology.

The list is actually endless…

Want to Save the World? Build a Local Economy!