At a time of crisis people will sometimes do anything to make ends meet. In Latvia they're ready to sell their immortal souls for a cash loan. The man behind the business has been dubbed a modern Mephistopheles.
He gives out loans of up to US$1,000 and asks for no documents in return. All he needs, he says, is their immortal soul as collateral.
Viktor Miroshnikov, director of the “Kontora” loan company, is an atheist and says his business is honest, but even away from his clients he hides behind sunglasses.
“There's a serious crisis now in Latvia. There are many non-payers, so the old principles of lending simply don't work,” he said. “I decided that in such times, a man's word is a more precious pledge than a car or an apartment, which are depreciating in value.”
About 200 people have given their souls to “Kontora” in the four months it's been operating. However, only 15 have come to get them back – they paid off their loans plus 1% interest per day.
Yaroslav Borodin is one of the few to have paid the money back. After the first loan he says a miracle happened: he found a good job and his life changed for the better.
Now he's a repeat customer. He's also an Orthodox Christian who's recently started going to church from time to time.
However, that doesn't seem to make the thought of leaving his soul as a deposit any harder.
"A couple of years ago I worked out a scheme of borrowing from several banks – one after another,” he said. “Finally, none of the banks agreed to give me loans. And then I found out about Kontora. I didn’t mind giving them my soul then. My creditors had it already.”
Yaroslav admits pledging your soul is immoral, but when asked at what price he would sell it, he doesn't hesitate
“For 5,000 US dollars,” he says.
Unlike Yaroslav, other Latvians and tourists who we showed the agreement to were not so sure about the deal.
“You can’t put a price on your soul! It’s a part of you,” one of them said.
“I would never sign it. Definitely not,” another added.
Despite the infamous loan company appearing at a time when many other banks would sooner leave – in a time of crisis – the majority of people are still not ready to give up their soul for cash regardless of the amount.
The idea of profiting from people in hard times has been criticized both by the Orthodox and Catholic dioceses in Latvia.
“I don’t think that too many people will use the services of Kontora,” said Janis Vanags, Lutheran Archbishop of Riga. “But I think that the crisis has arrived because too many people sold their souls for money.”
What's considered by many to be an immoral business, the buying and selling of souls has proved itself as an effective marketing tool. In total, the company has paid out only about 5,000 euros in loans, but has attracted unprecedented attention. It's not hard to guess that with such good PR, Kontora is in a great position to start any new enterprise – with or without God's help.