French financier to head Vatican bank

Associated PressJuly 9, 2014 

— The Vatican has chosen a French financier to become the new president of its bank, which is overhauling the way it operates after a series of financial scandals.

As widely expected, the Vatican announced Wednesday it had tapped Jean-Baptiste de Franssu to head the Institute of Religious Works, as the bank is formally called. De Franssu, whose expertise is in investment banking, has been serving on a new Vatican economic council.

He said he would tap an outside management fund to help shift the bank toward asset management. He emphasized that the fund would be chosen based also on its Catholic principles.

The outgoing president, a German industrialist named Ernst von Freyberg, worked to make the bank's transactions more compliant with international banking standards after Italian money-laundering and cash-smuggling probes stung the institution.

In an interview published in German newspaper Bild, von Freyberg declared: "The bank is now clean." Without elaborating, he said "dubious" investments resulted in costs of more than 45 million euros ($60 million).

De Franssu told reporters he aimed to "follow up on the good work" accomplished by von Freyberg and praised the "extremely smooth and amicable handover that is currently taking place."

Australian Cardinal George Pell, the pope's point man on economic reform, announced the Frenchman's appointment. He also announced that Chris Patten would head a new media committee to eliminate redundancy among the Holy See's many media, with the goal of cutting costs. Chris Patten, Britain's last governor of Hong Kong, resigned in May as chairman of the BBC Trust.

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