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FT: Vatican Police Investigate Holy See's Bet on London Property

FT: Vatican Police Investigate Holy See's Bet on London Property

Redeyed | Dreamstime.com

By    |   Monday, 14 October 2019 08:14 AM

The Vatican reportedly is investigating how $200 million in Swiss bank accounts controlled by its central administrator ended up financing a luxury property development in London’s Chelsea district that generated large profits for a company that managed the investment for the Holy See.

Vatican police raided the offices of the Holy See’s Secretariat of State and its Financial Information Authority, or AIF, last Tuesday and took away documents and electronic devices as part of an investigation of suspected financial irregularities, a Vatican statement said.

It was believed to be the first time the two departments were searched for evidence involving alleged financial crimes, Reuters reported.

The Secretariat of State, the most powerful department in the Vatican, is the nerve center of its bureaucracy and diplomacy and the administrative heart of the worldwide Catholic Church. The AIF, headed by Swiss lawyer Rene Bruelhart, is the financial controller, with authority over all Vatican departments.

The Vatican statement gave no details except to say that the operation was a follow-up to complaints filed in the summer by the Vatican bank and the Office of the Auditor General and were related to “financial operations carried out over the course of time.”

Meanwhile, the project to construct 49 luxury apartments has become the focus of an investigation by Vatican police into the financial activities of the Holy See’s Secretariat of State, the custodian of millions of dollars in charity given by Catholics around the world, multiple people familiar with the probe told the Financial Times.

The Vatican became involved in the Chelsea project in 2014 when $200 million held in Swiss bank accounts controlled by the Secretariat of State was transferred to a Luxembourg investment fund called Athena Capital, the FT said/

Athena is owned by the Italian London-based financier Raffaele Mincione through his company WRM. Athena had bought the Chelsea building for 129 million British pounds ($161.8 million) in 2012 and then sold a minority stake in the project in 2014 to a fund it managed on behalf of the Vatican as a sole client, the FT said.

In 2018, the Vatican bought out the remaining equity in the Chelsea project from Athena. Mincione’s vehicle earned around 130 million poounds from the project overall, the FT said.

The Vatican declined to comment about its ownership of the London building, or confirm the subject of the raids on the offices of the Secretariat.

Since the election of Pope Francis in 2013, the Vatican has made great strides in cleaning up its often murky financial reputation.

Last year, a former head of the Vatican bank and an Italian lawyer went on trial to face charges of money laundering and embezzlement through real estate deals. It is still in progress.

In May, the AIF said reports of suspicious financial activity in the Vatican reached a six-year low in 2018, continuing a trend officials said showed reforms were in place.

For decades, the bank, officially known as the Institute for Works of Religion, or IOR, was embroiled in numerous financial scandals as Italians with no right to have accounts opened them with the complicity of corrupt insiders.

Hundreds of accounts have been closed at the IOR, whose stated purpose is to manage funds for the Church, Vatican employees, religious institutes or Catholic charities.

In 2017, Italy put the Vatican on its “white list” of states with cooperative financial institutions, ending years of mistrust.

The same year, Moneyval, a monitoring body of the Council of Europe, gave Vatican financial reforms a mostly positive evaluation.

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The Vatican reportedly is investigating how $200 million in Swiss bank accounts controlled by its central administrator ended up financing a luxury property development in London’s Chelsea district that generated large profits for a company that managed the investment for the Holy See.
vatican, london, property, holy see
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2019-14-14
Monday, 14 October 2019 08:14 AM
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