The Vatican has invested tens of millions of euros worth of donations in lifestyle products, a toy wholesaler, mineral water, a tech startup, real estate and bonds and even films like Men in Black or Rocketman, the Elton John biopic, a report has claimed.

Driving the news

Italian paper Corriere della Sera reported Wednesday on the links between the Vatican Secretary of State – presently under investigation for a shady real estate deal in London – and the Centurion investment fund based in Valletta, Malta.

Corriere said according to “various and reliable sources” two-thirds of Centurion’s capital comes from the Secretary of State, and in turn from the ‘Peter’s Pence’ donations to the Vatican from faithful around the world.

The paper added that Centurion is managed by an Italian resident in Switzerland, Enrico Crasso, who is the owner of Sogenel Holding and a former banker at Credit Suisse.

Crasso “has managed the Vatican coffers for years”, Corriere said, adding that for this service the banker has earned letters of thanks from the Secretariat of State and even a gold medal of merit from the pope.

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Corriere estimated Centurion’s capital at 70 million euros, which at that two-thirds figure means the Secretary of State has invested around 46 million euros in the fund.

But Centurion’s investments don’t seem to be all that consonant with Church teaching, according to the Italian paper’s investigations:

  • A 6 million euro share (or 25% stake) in Italia Independent, the lifestyle products and eyewear firm of Lapo Elkann, the grandson of former Fiat CEO Gianni Agnelli
  • A 10 million euro share through intermediary companies (a 1.67% share) in Giochi Preziosi, an Italian toy wholesaler
  • A 4.7 million euro share in Cristallina Holding, a group of Italian partners such as the holding company of the famous Borromeo family which recently took over mineral water producers Acqua Pejo and Goccia di Carnia
  • A 1.27 million euro share (10%) in Abbassalebollette, an Italian tech startup that uses the internet to save on gas and electricity bills
  • The 16 million euro purchase of the headquarters in Italy of the Swiss-Swedish multinational ABB
  • 4.5 million euros in bonds issued by the Roman company Bdm Costruzioni e Appalti
  • 4 million euros to finance moves like Men in Black and Rocketman

As if those investments weren’t scandalous enough in themselves, however, Corriere said the value of the Centurion fund was down 4.61% last year, a loss of some 2 million euros.

Most of those losses went to the pockets of middlemen, the paper added.

What’s next

In a statement the Vatican Press Office confirmed to Corriere that the Centurion investments and Secretary of State links to those are now the subject of judicial investigations.

“Investigations are in progress, and lines of enquiry which may help clarify the position of the Holy See with respect to the aforementioned funds and any others, are currently being examined by the Vatican judiciary, in collaboration with the competent authorities”, the Vatican said.

The latest Corriere revelations, however, would seem to place Pope Francis in a difficult position.

Just days ago, on the plane back to Rome from Asia, the Pope boasted that “the Vatican administration now has the resources to shed light on the bad things that happen internally”, such as in cases of apparent corruption.

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