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Archbishop embarrassed by link to payday loan firm

Published on NewsOK Modified: July 26, 2013 at 5:08 am •  Published: July 26, 2013

LONDON (AP) — The archbishop of Canterbury acknowledged Friday that he was embarrassed by revelations that the Church of England indirectly invested in a payday loan firm he had pledged to put out of business.

Archbishop Justin Welby, leader of the world's 80 million Anglicans, told the BBC he would urgently review the church's investment after a report by the Financial Times that the church's pension fund had invested in Accel Partners, an American venture capital firm that led the 2009 fundraising for payday lender Wonga.

"I was irritated," he said of learning about the investment. "But these things happen."

The amount of church money indirectly invested in Wonga was 75,000 pounds ($115,000), out of investments totaling 5.2 billion pounds. But the revelation is still awkward for Welby, who told Total Politics magazine earlier this week that he was ready to compete with payday lenders in hopes of putting them out of business.

He claims the firms, which offer small, short-term loans at sky-high interest rates, prey on the most vulnerable in society.

Welby seemed more conciliatory toward Wonga on Friday, though he insisted he wasn't backtracking on his criticism. He said the firm was well-managed and that its chief executive, Errol Damelin, was a clever man who "runs it extremely well."

Wonga has an annual interest rate of 5,853 percent, according to its website — but Welby said loan sharks that operate outside the law are an even greater problem.

However, the former oil company executive said he remains committed to having the church develop plans to help expand credit unions —member-owned financial cooperatives — as an alternative to the lenders.

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