The Vatican has been hit with another financial scandal. It has begun an investigation to know how $200 million worth of charity funds parked in Swiss Bank accounts ended up financing a luxury property development in London’s upscale Chelsea district that generated large profits for a company that managed the investment for the Holy See, reported Financial Times.
According to the reports, the project to construct 49 luxury apartments at 60 Sloane Avenue is being probed the Church officials after funds worth $200 million held in Swiss bank accounts controlled by the Secretariat of State was transferred to a Luxembourg investment fund called Athena Capital. The Vatican is said to be engaged in the project since 2014.
After suspecting financial irregularities, an investigation was launched by Vatican police and raids were conducted at the offices of the Holy See’s Secretariat of State and its Financial Information Authority or AIF. The police took away documents and electronic devices. Two departments were under investigations.
The Secretariat of State serves as the central governing bureaucracy of the Catholic Church. It is responsible for the political and diplomatic functions of the Vatican. It manages the millions of dollars in charity given by the followers of the Catholic faith.
Following the police raid, five Vatican employees including a top official at the Vatican’s Financial Information Authority (AIF) and a monsignor were also suspended. The AIF, headed by Swiss lawyer Rene Bruelhart is the financial controller with authority over all Vatican departments.
The Vatican itself had announced that raids were prompted by complaints lodged in the summer by the Vatican’s bank and auditor-general about “financial operations carried out over the course of time”.
According to the FT report, The Vatican’s investment with Athena Capital was personally authorised by Cardinal Giovanni Angelo Becciu, who is said to have met the London-based financier inside the Vatican. Cardinal Becciu was at the time in charge of the administrative duties of the Secretary of State and reported on a daily basis to Pope.
As per some reports, in addition to the $200 million invested in 2014, the Vatican had invested an additional $50 million in the same property in 2018.
Cardinal Becciu was at the time in charge of the administrative duties of the Secretary of State, the second-ranking official from 2011-18 and reported on a daily basis to Pope Benedict and later Pope Francis. In 2018 Becciu was made the head of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints.
As the scandal gained media attention, The Vatican’s head of security has also resigned from his position last night over the leaking of the Vatican police flyer that had named the suspended employees to an Italian news magazine. The Vatican has been tight-lipped about the total scale and spread of the scam and the number of officials involved.
The Vatican declined to comment about its ownership of the London properties or confirm the subject of the raids on the offices of the Secretariat.