VATICAN CITY, October 15, 2019 (LifeSiteNews) ― Investments made by Cardinal Giovanni Angelo Becciu are at the heart of a Vatican investigation, says a leading financial newspaper.
According to London’s Financial Times, the Vatican 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.”
The investigation led to the October 1 raid by Vatican police on the Vatican’s own Secretariat of State, after which five Vatican employees were suspended. An internal memo about these individuals was leaked to the press, leading to the resignation of its signatory, the Vatican Gendarmerie Corps’ chief, Inspector General Domenico Giani.
The Financial Times reported yesterday that the Holy See became involved in the London real estate project, which involves the development of 45 luxury apartments, when “$200m held in Swiss bank accounts controlled by the Secretariat of State was transferred to a Luxembourg investment fund called Athena Capital.”
“Athena is owned by the Italian London-based financier Raffaele Mincione through his company WRM,” FT continued.
“Athena had bought the Chelsea building for £129m 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. In 2018, the Vatican bought out the remaining equity in 60 Sloane Avenue from Athena. Mr Mincione’s vehicle earned around £130m from the project overall.”
The London financial newspaper said that the Vatican had “declined to comment” about its ownership of the apartment building or the reasons for the raid upon the Secretary of State. However, FT asserted that Cardinal Giovanni Becciu, the Substitute (deputy) of the Secretariat of State between 2011 and 2018, had “personally authorized” the investment.
Cardinal Becciu’s office also declined to comment. Mincione’s company told the FT that they were unaware of why the Secretariat of State was raided by police earlier this month.
“We have no inside knowledge of these investigations or the circumstances that led to them,” they stated.
“We are secure and confident in the knowledge that no wrongdoing or improprieties were conducted by the WRM group or any of its companies.”
Mincione is believed to have made a £128 million profit when the Vatican bought his share in the London property for £168 million.
According to Financial Times:
Athena Capital first purchased 60 Sloane Avenue in 2012 for £129m with a £75m mortgage from Deutsche Bank that was later refinanced with a £100m loan from hedge fund Cheyne Capital.
In November last year, the Vatican Secretariat sent an official to London to meet Athena Capital and negotiated the buyout of the fund’s 55 per cent stake in the building at 60 Sloane Avenue. After a complicated asset swap that involved the Holy See transferring £40m to Athena as well as other assets owned by Athena on its behalf, the Vatican took control of the property.
In addition, it has taken over the £100m debt attached to the project. The $200m originally invested by the Secretariat with Athena in 2014 was worth around £128m at exchange rates at the time. If that is added to the £40m paid to Athena in 2018, the Vatican ended up buying Mr Mincione’s equity in the Chelsea building for £168m. That would mean Mr Mincione made a £128m profit after the £40m he originally invested in 2012.
WRM said that the profits it made by selling a minority stake in Mr Mincione’s building to the Secretariat in 2014 were based on an independent valuation conducted by CBRE, and that the value of the building had sharply appreciated along with other prime London real estate from 2012 to 2014.
The Catholic News Agency (CNA) recalled yesterday that in 2016 Cardinal Becciu helped to stop the financial reforms to the Vatican finances begun by Cardinal George Pell.
“Although Pope Francis had given the newly created Prefecture for the Economy autonomous oversight authority over Vatican finances, Becciu interfered when the prefecture planned an external audit of all Vatican departments, to be conducted by the firm Price Waterhouse Cooper,” CNA wrote.
“Unilaterally, and without permission of Pope Francis, Becciu cancelled the audit and announced in a letter to all Vatican departments that it would not take place.”
Becciu also forced out the last full-time auditor general, Libero Milone, in June 2017. Milone said he had been dismissed after he began investigating financial regularities; in response, Becciu accused him of “spying” on his superiors.
Phil Lawler of CatholicCulture.org noted recently that one of the Vatican employees suspended after the October 1 raid, Monsignor Mauro Carlino, “was until recently an aide to Becciu in the Secretariat of State.”