The recent raids in the Vatican are connected to a multi-million pound investment of the Holy See in a luxury development project in London, reports have claimed.

Driving the news

The Financial Times reported Monday that Vatican police are investigating the Holy See’s investment in the construction of luxury apartments at a former Harrods warehouse at 60 Sloane Avenue, in Chelsea.

Part of those investigations involved raids October 1 on offices in the Vatican Secretariat of State and anti-money laundering Financial Information Authority (AIF).

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Go deeper

The Holy See’s involvement in the Chelsea project began in 2014, with the transferral of £128 million in donations from the faithful from bank accounts in Switzerland controlled by the Vatican Secretariat of State.

That money went to Athena Capital, a Luxembourg investment fund.

Athena had acquired the Chelsea building in 2012 for £129 million, thanks in part to a £75 million mortgage from Deutsche Bank. 

In 2014, Athena sold a stake in the Chelsea project to a fund it managed for the Vatican for those £128 million.

In 2018, the Vatican bought out Athena’s remaining equity in the building for £40 million, acquiring the investment fund’s £100 million debt in the project in the process.

The Vatican’s takeover of the Chelsea building thus meant tens of millions of pounds profit for Athena and its parent company, WRM, but at the same time corresponding heavy losses for the Vatican.

The scandal has also led to a reputation hit for the Vatican, with Italy’s L’Espresso magazine – which broke the story of the Sloane Avenue investment – even hinting that the apartments could be being used for sex get-aways for Vatican priests.

In a statement to the Financial Times, WRM said it couldn’t comment on the Vatican investigation.

“We have no inside knowledge of these investigations or the circumstances that led to them. We are secure and confident in the knowledge that no wrongdoing or improprieties were conducted by the WRM group or any of its companies”, the company insisted.

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Why it matters

With WRM’s denial of any wrongdoing in the Chelsea project, all eyes have turned to the role played in the events by Cardinal Angelo Becciu.

From 2011 until 2018, Becciu was in charge of general affairs at the Secretariat of State, and as such authorised the 2014 and 2018 investments.

As CNA recalls, it isn’t the first time Becciu has found himself in the spotlight over alleged financial wrongdoing in the Vatican.

In 2016, Becciu – now Prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints – stopped an independent audit of Vatican finances ordered by then-Prefect of the Secretariat for the Economy and Vatican ‘treasurer’, Cardinal George Pell.

In 2017, Becciu was instrumental in the dismissal of Libero Milone, the Vatican’s first-ever auditor general.

That same year, Becciu was also appointed papal envoy to the Order of Malta.

Critics said the cardinal used that position to transfer to the Vatican money from a 120 million euro Swiss-based trust, part of which was bequeathed to the Order.

One of the five Holy See employees suspended after the October 1 raids, Monsignor Mauro Carlino, worked under Becciu when Becciu was at the Secretariat of State.

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For the record

Cardinal Becciu is yet to respond directly to the accusations.

But he allude to the raids and ongoing investigation at the weekend, telling Italy’s Mediaset that “unfortunately, inside the Vatican the sense of loyalty and fidelity to institutions is failing”.

“If we tear ourselves apart and attack each other, we will lose the sense of being the Church amid hatred and power struggles”, the cardinal warned, in an apparent reference to an ongoing war behind Vatican walls.

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What’s next

In the meantime, the Vatican announced today that Pope Francis has named a new Commander of the Vatican Gendarmerie, or police force.

That was after the previous holder of the post, Domenico Giani, was forced to resign yesterday over the leak of an internal Vatican memo barring four of the five Vatican employees suspended after the raids October 1 from entering Vatican grounds.

Gianluca Gauzzi Broccoletti, the new Commander, was Giani’s deputy.

The 45-year-old has worked in the Vatican police force and security department since 1995.

Since 1999, he has also been in charge of the Holy See’s cyber-security and technological infrastructure.

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Pope opens Vatican Bank books to external auditors

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