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Speculation, Peculation: the Usual Church Activities


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The Gospel according to John

Chapter 2

 

13 And the Jews' passover was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.

14 And found in the temple those that sold oxen and sheep and doves, and the changers of money sitting:

15 And when he had made a scourge of small cords, he drove them all out of the temple, and the sheep, and the oxen; and poured out the changers' money, and overthrew the tables;

16 And said unto them that sold doves, Take these things hence; make not my Father's house an house of merchandise.

 

Meanwhile, in London, in a Court of Law.....

 

Vatican official ‘offered call girl as thank you for £300m Chelsea property deal’

Sean O’Neill, Chief Reporter

Tuesday March 30 2021, 12.01am, The Times

 

https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/vatican-official-offered-call-girl-as-thank-you-for-300m-chelsea-property-deal-vlr50jnjc

 

A Vatican official allegedly offered a businessman the services of a call girl as they negotiated the Holy See’s £300 million purchase of a landmark London property, according to a High Court ruling.

 

Gianluigi Torzi claimed that Fabrizio Tirabassi, a senior lay official involved in the acquisition of an office block in Chelsea, also threatened his life and openly boasted of blackmailing senior clergymen in Rome. Torzi, 42, who was a middleman on the property deal, said in written evidence that he was so concerned by the behaviour of the official that he reported it to Pope Francis during a private meeting.

 

The claims about the Vatican’s foray into the prime London property market appear in a judgment published this week that lifted freezing orders on Torzi’s bank accounts that were imposed at the Vatican’s request.

 

Judge Tony Baumgartner dismissed the restraint orders on Torzi, who denies charges of embezzlement, fraud, extortion and money laundering. He said that the Vatican had failed to disclose documents and misrepresented the facts in ways that were “so appalling that the ultimate sanction of discharge [of the freezing orders] is justified”.

 

The judge added that he was not making findings of fact on any of the matters alleged but said: “I do not consider there is reasonable cause to believe Mr Torzi has benefited from criminal conduct.”

 

The ruling is a blow to the Vatican’s claims that it had been defrauded of tens of millions of pounds when it bought 60 Sloane Avenue, a block close to Harrods and earmarked for development into luxury flats. The controversy has led to senior Vatican figures being removed from their posts and police raids on the state’s financial regulator. The Pope has criticised “suspicious financial situations, which aside from their possible unlawfulness are not in keeping with the nature and purpose of the church”.

 

The Vatican believes that it was cheated when it paid £300 million for the building in 2018 and claims that the property fetched £129 million in 2012. The judge pointed out that the Vatican failed to mention that the value had risen sharply after planning permission for residential use was granted.

 

The Vatican alleges that Torzi was part of a conspiracy with Tirabassi, the senior cleric Monsignor Alberto Perlasca, 60, and the London financier Raffaello Mincione to defraud the Holy See.

Tirabassi was suspended from his Vatican post in 2019 and Perlasca was moved to a different role.

Mincione, 56, the previous owner of 60 Sloane Avenue, has strongly denied any wrongdoing. He has lodged two separate legal actions against the Holy See in the London courts.

 

Torzi, who brokered the transfer of the property from Mincione to the Vatican, is accused of accepting a £12 million bribe and demanding a £4.3 million commission. He maintains that all the payments were properly accounted for and authorised by the Vatican.

He said that he had been deeply concerned by the behaviour of some of those said to be representing the Holy See, including Tirabassi, whom he described as “not a man who was unaccustomed to . . . nefarious practices”.

 

Torzi said in evidence that Tirabassi “openly admitted blackmailing several prelates” and in November 2018 had “offered him the services of a prostitute as a gift to acknowledge the work he had done”.

A month later, Torzi claimed, Tirabassi ordered him to complete the deal “and go away or your life and that of your children is at risk”.

 

The judge ordered the Vatican to pay Torzi’s legal costs.

 

A spokesman for Torzi said: “Mr Torzi has always maintained he was only ever involved in a genuine commercial transaction with the Vatican.”

 

 

The property department of the Vatican is a separate entity, right? 

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Vatican rocked
A cardinal goes on trial

Not something you see every day

Jul 10th 2021

ROME

 

The throne of Simon Peter, or that of Simon Magus?

 

https://www.economist.com/europe/2021/07/10/a-cardinal-goes-on-trial

 

Vatican scandals are nothing if not colourful. The latest involves claims of extortion, a kidnapped nun, and a security expert alleged to have frittered prodigious amounts of the Holy See’s money on luxury goods and services.

 

On July 3rd a Vatican judge sent ten people, including a cardinal, Angelo Becciu, for trial on charges including embezzlement, abuse of office, extortion and fraud. All deny wrongdoing. The news was overshadowed by the following day’s announcement that Pope Francis was undergoing an operation to remove part of his colon. But it is the trial, due to open on July 27th, that is likely to leave a more enduring mark on his pontificate.

Cardinal Becciu had been the second most powerful official in the Holy See’s bureaucracy, as deputy secretary of state, a friend of Francis and once seen as his possible successor. Among his fellow defendants are the former president and director of the Vatican’s financial regulator. The indictments suggest Francis will spare no one in his determination to cleanse the Vatican’s murky finances. But they also raise questions about his methods.

The prosecutors have wound three strands into one trial.

The first, which prompted the cardinal’s dismissal last year, relates to his payment of €100,000 ($118,000) to a diocesan co-operative run by his brother.

The second concerns his relationship with Cecilia Marogna, whom he hired as a consultant and into whose firm his office allegedly funnelled €575,000. The money was meant for operations that included securing the release of a nun kidnapped in Colombia. The prosecution says much of the cash was spent at places like Prada and Louis Vuitton and in spas.

Central to this tangled skein is a property deal. Cardinal Becciu is alleged to have inspired the Secretariat of State’s investment of €350m in a commercial property in London. Structured in a highly complex way, the money was invested through a fund operated by a London-based Italian financier who is among those charged. The secretariat, using money largely donated by the faithful, originally took a minority stake. But, dissatisfied with the arrangement, it decided in 2018 to buy the entire property, and turned to another Italian intermediary, Gianluigi Torzi, who pocketed a €15m fee the Vatican’s prosecutors claim was extorted. The Vatican’s financial regulator, which became involved in negotiating with Mr Torzi, is accused of exceeding its remit and failing to report the transaction to the prosecutors.

 

Whether it is wise to put regulators on trial is one worry. Another is whether the defendants can get a fair hearing: their lawyers were given just 24 days to respond to a 487-page charge-sheet. A third is whether the Vatican is shifting the blame. According to Mr Torzi, the pope knew of his involvement; and that his right-hand man, the secretary of state, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, approved it. Tricky, your Holiness. 

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Vatican in a holy mess as cardinal’s fraud trial begins

Matthew Campbell

Sunday July 25 2021, 12.01am, The Sunday Times

 

https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/vatican-in-a-holy-mess-as-cardinals-fraud-trial-begins-fxdtxfrkb

 

He was one of the Pope’s most influential advisers, the all-powerful head of the Vatican’s “saint-making” office. But there is nothing saintly about what Giovanni Angelo Becciu will be accused of in court this week when he becomes the first cardinal in modern history to stand trial, accused of criminal offences, inside the Holy See.

The case of the cardinal, his “niece”, the kidnapped nuns and the £350 million property in Chelsea has transfixed Italy from the moment in September when Becciu, 73, was sacked by Pope Francis under suspicion of nepotism and embezzlement.

Becciu was not just a cardinal: he was effectively a chief of staff to Francis and his potential successor.

Now the Sardinian is being tried with nine others — former church officials, businessmen and Cecilia Marogna, a much younger woman understood to have been introduced within the Vatican as Becciu’s niece.

“It’s all extremely unusual,” said Thomas Reese, a Jesuit priest and columnist for Religion News Service. “You have to go back hundreds of years to find a cardinal on trial [in the Vatican].”

 

Embarrassing as the charges of extortion, fraud and money-laundering — among others — may be for Francis, the case could mark progress in his campaign to flush out the Vatican stables.

Until recently, only a pope could judge a cardinal, but two months ago Francis changed the rules to allow Becciu’s trial. He has also beefed up the Vatican tribunal, appointing a tough, former anti-mafia judge, Giuseppe Pignatone, with experience unravelling complex financial crimes.

 

Through his lawyer, Becciu last week denied any wrongdoing. “I am the victim of a plot,” he said. “I have been waiting for a long time to prove to the world my absolute innocence.”

 

The cardinal was alleged to have drained the Vatican’s vaults with multimillion-pound investments abroad and to have siphoned off funds destined for the poor to his three brothers, as well as to Marogna, 40, a fellow Sardinian.

A security expert who ran a Slovenia-registered firm dedicated to “humanitarian affairs”, Marogna claimed to have been hired to set up a diplomatic back channel to secure the release of nuns kidnapped in north Africa, but admitted having invested part of the hundreds of thousands of pounds she received over five years in designer handbags and shoes — exclusively Italian brands, she has insisted. She denied having an affair with Becciu, proclaiming after her arrest: “I, the lover of a cardinal? Absurd.”

 

Most of the tribunal’s proceedings will be conducted through “paper submissions”, according to Reese. “It’s not Perry Mason,” he added, a reference to the fictional defence lawyer.

 

Becciu previously oversaw the body in charge of selecting Catholic saints. The alleged offences were committed while making investments on behalf of the Vatican’s secretariat of state, the powerful central office where he was No 2 from 2011 until 2018.

It has emerged that he directed some of the money — donations received by the Vatican from church collection plates all over the world and intended to be delivered to the poor — into financial derivatives that effectively bet on the creditworthiness of Hertz, the US car rental company that defaulted on its debts last year. Some of the money also went into Rocketman, the biographical film about Sir Elton John, as well as to companies owned by Russian oligarchs.

 

At the heart of the case is the money pumped, allegedly at Becciu’s urging, into a giant London property investment. The idea was to convert into flats a building at 60 Sloane Avenue, a former Harrods automobile showroom.

An investigation found the Vatican had somehow lost tens of millions of pounds on the deal while advisers who brokered it, including Pierluigi Torzi, one of those on trial, were alleged to have pocketed millions in fees and commissions.

 

Speculation also persists about Becciu’s alleged “dirty tricks”, which could feature in the trial: Marogna said on television that besides trying to rescue kidnapped nuns, part of her remit was to compose dossiers on various individuals that could be used to embarrass them.

With such a complicated web of intrigue to untangle, the hearing is expected to go on for months.
@MCinParis

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Vatican comes clean over property empire

Tom Kington, Rome

Monday July 26 2021, 12.01am, The Times

 

https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/vatican-owns-properties-europe-catholic-church-brrj8v230

 

The Vatican has revealed that it owns 5,251 properties across Europe before the trial of a cardinal accused of frittering away donations on a block of flats in Chelsea.

In its first public budget, the Vatican said it controlled 4,051 properties in Italy and 1,200 across London, Paris and Geneva and Lausanne in Switzerland, which together generated a profit of €15 million last year.

Of the total revenue, €4.4 million came from 27 London properties handled for the Vatican by a company called British Grolux Investments in sought-after addresses, said to include the Bond Street outpost of the Italian jeweller Bulgari. Bishop Nunzio Galantino, 72, head of the Administration of the Patrimony of the Holy See (Apsa), said publication of the budget was “a step forward in the direction of transparency and sharing”.

The Vatican ventured into the property market using money handed to it in 1929 by Mussolini as compensation for its loss of papal territory to the Italian state. Since then property dealing by prelates has been shrouded in secrecy and punctuated by occasional scandal. In 2013 a priest at Apsa nicknamed Don 500 for his habit of keeping €500 notes in his wallet, was arrested on suspicion of trying to smuggle €20 million into Italy on a private jet.

Galantino gave hints about the Vatican’s property portfolio this year, revealing that the London properties were valued at €108.5 million and the 737 Paris properties €600 million.

The documents released at the weekend suggest that Apsa has only recently figured out how many properties it owns. Only 14 per cent are rented out at market rates, with the remainder let out cheaply to church staff. Schools, convents or hospitals make up 40 per cent of the portfolio. One large building close to St Peter’s in Rome is used as a homeless shelter.

 

Tomorrow the trial starts of Angelo Becciu, 73, a senior Vatican cardinal, and nine others accused over the alleged embezzlement of €350 million in church donations invested in the flats in Chelsea.

 

“The Apsa budget release is linked to the trial, since it is all part of a bid by the Vatican to show that it is turning a page,” said Fabrizio Massaro, co-author with Mario Gerevini of Merchants in the Temple about the Becciu investigation.

 

Putting his house in order, Pope Francis has transferred funds controlled by the Vatican’s Secretariat of State, which handled the Chelsea deal, to Apsa. Father Juan Antonio Guerrero, head of the Vatican secretariat for the economy, said at the weekend that the building would be soon sold.

The trial will focus on how the Vatican tried to take control of the Chelsea property it co-owned with a broker, only to be allegedly tricked by a second broker who secured control of the property. Prosecutors will allege that the broker, Gianluigi Torzi, extorted cash from the Vatican in return for control of the address. Becciu and all the defendants deny wrongdoing.

“This has been a €350 million MBA for the Vatican, which has learnt that it is not wise to hire consultants who are friends of friends,” Massaro said.

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Vatican set to lose £100m of charity donations in London property sale

new

Philip Willan, Rome | Tom Howard, London

Monday November 08 2021, 3.30pm, The Times

 

https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/vatican-set-to-lose-100m-of-charity-donations-in-london-property-sale-jw0vd3zbp

 

The former Harrods car showroom at 60 Sloane Avenue in Knightsbridge was bought by the Vatican for £300 million

 

The Holy See is expected to lose £100 million from charity funds intended for the poor when it completes the sale of a prestigious London office building at the centre of a corruption trial.

The Vatican is in the final stages of selling 60 Sloane Avenue in Knightsbridge to Bain Capital, an American private equity group, for about £200 million, according to the Financial Times.

The Vatican used £300 million taken from donations for the charitable purposes of the Pope to buy the former Harrods car showroom, with the intention of making a profit by converting the building into luxury flats.

The investment by the Vatican’s secretariat of state, the central administration office of the Roman Catholic Church, has mired the institution in years of legal wrangling. The property was first bought by Raffaele Mincione, a former Italian banker, in 2012.

 

Mincione and another Italian businessman, Gianluigi Torzi, are on trial in the Vatican on charges of embezzlement, fraud and money laundering stemming from their involvement in the London property deal.

Another eight people, including Cardinal Angelo Becciu, who was number two at the secretariat of state when the investment began, are on trial alongside them for a variety of alleged financial crimes.

 

Mincione moved to London in the 1980s and worked at various investment banks in the City trading bonds and derivatives. He made headlines in the early 1990s when he briefly dated Heather Mills, the ex-wife of Sir Paul McCartney.

Mincione bought 60 Sloane Avenue for £129 million having taken out a £75 million loan from his bank. His plan was to knock down the existing building and turn it into a block of luxury flats.

Senior Holy See officials first bought a 45 per cent stake in 60 Sloane Avenue in the summer of 2014. By November of 2018, the Vatican owned the building outright, having invested about £300 million (€350 million) of charitable donations in total.

Planning permission was secured in 2016 for 49 high-end flats but the Brexit vote sent a chill through the prime London property market. Amid the uncertainty, overseas investors became reluctant to park their money in the capital, which for years had been seen as a safe haven for foreign capital.

As the inbound investment slowed, so too did property prices at the top end of the market. In prime central London between May 2016 and October 2021, average prices were down 16.1 per cent according to the Knight Frank index.

 

The Vatican is now believed to be looking at getting out of the deal, which is seen as being a driving factor behind Pope Francis’s move to overhaul the Vatican’s finances. The official Vatican spokesman did not respond to a request for comment but a Vatican source said the Holy See was moving towards a sale.

Bain did not respond to a request for comment and Savills, which is thought to be managing the sale, declined to comment.

 

Cardinal George Pell, the Australian originally chosen by Francis to reform the Vatican’s finances, said he had clashed with Becciu, and indicated that he might have saved the Vatican from some of its losses if he had received more backing from on high.

“There was resistance in the secretariat of state. But if the auditor or we from the secretariat for the economy had been able to intervene earlier, we would have saved a lot, a lot of money destined for the London building and also in other places,” Pell told La Stampa newspaper last week.

Pell, who lost his job before being acquitted of historic sex abuse charges in Australia, said Becciu had prevented auditors from viewing the secretariat of state’s accounts.

“We had the authority to enter, but they prevented us,” he said.

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