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Vatican documents detail suspicious investments at Secretariat of State

A confidential report shows that the Secretariat of State has used about $725 million in off-books operations.

The tower of the Institute for Works of Religion, often referred to as the Vatican bank, is pictured Oct. 2, 2019. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Vatican City, Oct 20, 2019 / 04:33 pm (CNA).- A confidential report from the Vatican’s anti-corruption authority shows that the Secretariat of State has used about $725 million, most of which came from the pope’s charity fund, in off-books operations.

Italian weekly L’Espresso published a report Oct. 20, revealing information from three confidential Vatican documents, one of which is a report from the pope’s anti-corruption authority, called the Office of the General Auditor, claiming to have found serious financial crimes and corruption within the Secretariat of State.

The documents, L’Espresso reported, detail the use and management of extra-budgetary funds by the Secretariat of State, “deriving in large part from the donations received by the Holy Father for charitable works and for the sustenance of the Roman Curia.”

At least most of the money was drawn from Peter’s Pence, the annual collection through which Catholics are invited to support the charitable activities of the pope.

L’Espresso reported these funds are being used “in reckless speculative operations,” and that the same report by the General Auditor says about 77% of the assets (about $558 million) were put into Swiss and Italian branches of the investment bank Credit Suisse.

A second confidential document acquired by L’Espresso is the 16-page decree authorizing the Oct. 1 search of the offices of the Secretariat of State and the Financial Intelligence Authority (AIF). The raid was ordered by the Vatican City’s prosecutors, called “promoters of Justice,” and led to the suspension of five Vatican officials and employees.

At the time of the raid, a Vatican statement said documents and devices were taken in connection to an investigation following complaints made last summer by the Institute for Religious Works (IOR)— commonly called the Vatican Bank— and the Office of the Auditor General.

The search decree indicates, according to L’Espresso, that the complaints indicated by the Vatican originated from the general auditor and the director of the IOR, Gian Franco Mammi. In the same document, the prosecutors, Gian Piero Milano and Alessandro Diddi, state that they believe they have found “serious indications of embezzlement, fraud, abuse of office, money laundering and self-money laundering.”

Other reports provide details into the Vatican’s 200 million euro ($223 million) investment purchase of a 17,000 square meter apartment building in London.

L’Espresso said that documents show a connection with Italian financier Raffaele Mincione, who was reportedly first approached and asked to invest 200 million euros, on behalf of the Vatican, in an oil company in Angola.

This was the idea of Cardinal Angelo Becciu, then bishop and second-ranking official of the Secretariat of State, according to L’Espresso. Becciu is a former papal nuncio to Angola.

When this project fell apart, Mincione reportedly proposed instead making the investment in the London property, converting a former Harrod’s warehouse into luxury apartments.

The deal went through with the Vatican purchasing 45% of the property in 2012 through Mincione’s Athena Capital Global fund. When the London real estate market took a downturn, the Vatican, in 2018, pulled out of Mincione’s fund and purchased the remaining 55% of the property.

CNA asked Becciu this week for comments about allegations made in relation to his role in the London real estate transaction; the cardinal has not yet responded.

The London property deal was reportedly signed by Msgr. Alberto Perlasca, at the time an official at the Secretariat of State, in November 2018. The Vatican’s London investment was then given over to a different Italian investor, Gianluigi Torzi.

Those are the investments which IOR director general Gian Franco Mammi supposedly reported to the Vatican prosecutors in 2018, leading to the investigation and this month’s raid on the Secretariat of State and subsequent suspension of five officials and employees.

The L’Espresso report claimed that another person involved in the deal was Fr. Mauro Carlino, once a personal secretary of Cardinal Becciu, who was one of the five employees suspended from the Secretariat of State this month.

Carlino was named head of information and documentation at the Secretariat of State by Pope Francis this summer.

The L’Espresso report was written by Italian journalist Emiliano Fittipaldi, one of five people investigated and charged by the Vatican for the publication of confidential documents in the 2015 scandal referred to as “Vatileaks II.” Fittipaldi and a fellow journalist were later acquitted on the basis of a lack of jurisdiction.

The Secretariat of State is the central governing office of the Catholic Church and the department of the Roman Curia which works most closely with the pope. It is also responsible for the governance of the Vatican City state. The Vatican’s Financial Intelligence Authority oversees suspicious financial transactions, and is charged with ensuring that Vatican banking policies comply with international financial standards.


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1 Comment

  1. If true (and, hypothetically, if not simply an undocumented strategy to grow the charity fund), then this report might still console a fleeced laity—-that pockets of the Vatican have not yet jettisoned everything from the pre-2013 Church…

    As for long Church “traditions”: in the early 16th Century funds from the sale of indulgences substituted for the noted Peter’s Pence collection (then prohibited in German lands) and were partly diverted to reimburse a financial house that had helped the German Bishop of Mainz buy his bishopric, an abuse (simony) later corrected by the Council of Trent.

    (Most of the rest went not to a bank account in Switzerland nor an apartment complex in London, but probably more openly to the construction of St. Peter’s basilica in Rome.)

    Financial reform? Five centuries and counting. Another proof of original sin and traditional moral theology.

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