Rome (AP) – The Vatican has filed a lawsuit against nine men and one woman after the loss-making purchase of a luxury home in London. The trial began Tuesday morning in a room in the Vatican Museums.
For the first time, there is also a cardinal in the dock. The suspects have to answer for embezzlement, money laundering and fraud in connection with the real estate deal in the London district of Chelsea. According to observers, the process could take years.
The focus of the scandal is the purchase of a commercial building at 60 Sloane Avenue in London, according to a report by the media portal “Vatican News”. It is not uncommon for the Vatican to invest in real estate as the state generates income from it. However, according to the report, the Vatican ended up buying the house for an unreasonably high price because the property’s value was likely overestimated.
Over the course of the deal, the Vatican representatives were apparently scammed by an Italian investment banker when they wanted to take full ownership of the building. The banker contractually retained voting rights during the purchase, which effectively meant that the Vatican lost its decision-making power over the property. According to the ‘Vatican News’ report, the investment banker then demanded 23 million euros for the return of its shares. After negotiations, the Vatican eventually paid 15 million euros for it.
In addition, commissions and expenses are said to have flowed around the numerous transactions, including in 2018. Overall, the Vatican probably spent three-figure million on the deal. Donations from the Peterspfennig, an annual collection among Catholic believers around the world, are also said to have been used for the purchase.
Investigators discovered the loss-making company in the summer of 2019. The Istituto per le Opere di Religione (IOR), also known as the Vatican Bank, became suspicious of its financial activities. The authorities then launched an investigation and the Secretariat of State was raided. The files on the matter now span several hundred pages. In addition to the ten people, the justice system has also charged four companies. As a result of the investigations, an internationally entwined network was revealed that led the researchers to the United Arab Emirates, Luxembourg and Switzerland, among others.
The entire London real estate business involved more and more people from the Vatican authorities, as well as from outside. The judiciary has accused Cardinal Giovanni Angelo Becciu of embezzlement and abuse of office. The 73-year-old denied the allegations: he was the victim of a hatred of his damage, a report said in early July. He would also have provided a co-defendant with committees. In addition to Becciu, former employees of the Vatican authorities and financial managers are also in the dock.
Cardinal Becciu had lost office after the scandal. His previous positions included deputizing for the powerful Secretariat of State in the Vatican – a central position in the Curia’s board. He was also responsible for financial matters. The State Secretariat acts as co-plaintiff. After the scandal, Pope Francis rebuilt financial flows in the Vatican and withdrew the administration of capital and real estate from the Secretariat of State.