Latvian clergy condemn 'money for souls' loan deals

Riga, Latvia - Religious leaders in Latvia have condemned a company that is offering people in the former Soviet republic the chance to pledge their souls as collateral for loans, the Delfi news portal said on Monday.

In order to receive loans of up to $1,000, clients have to sign a contract that states that the firm will own their souls in the event of them failing to return the sum.

"It is possible that this is simply the action of cynical financers who want to use the fear of losing one's soul to get rich," a joint statement by Evangelical Lutheran, Orthodox and Catholic leaders said.

"However, perhaps religious aims are behind this - Satanism, the occult or something of this kind - in an attempt to destroy human souls."

Latvia has been one of the hardest hit of all EU states by the global economic crisis. Its government resigned in February after a wave of street protests against a planned increase in VAT and other unpopular measures to help the budget meet EU commitments.

The head of the country's new government, approved by parliament in March, has said Latvia is on the verge of bankruptcy.