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Questions Persist About Vatican Finances, Real Estate

By October 2016, two years into his term as prefect of the Vatican’s Secretariat for the Economy, Cardinal George Pell had become aware of a Vatican dicastery handling large amounts of unregistered cash in offshore accounts.

But nearly three years later the questions raised by Cardinal Pell about the management of Administration of the Patrimony of the Holy See (APSA), the dicastery which handles the Vatican’s real estate and financial assets, have seemingly gone unanswered. Pell had identified money laundering and fraud risks related to the APSA’s use of foreign bank accounts and had questioned particular asset and real estate transactions.

Keen to move swiftly ahead with Pope Francis’ mandate to root out mismanagement and possible corruption in Vatican financial operations, the cardinal prefect contacted Australian banking friends in London in 2016 to find out more. They estimated that possibly as much as €100 million could be held in these accounts, primarily in the branches of two private banks located in Lugano, Switzerland.

Cardinal Pell responded by saying he would ask a Swiss law firm to first collect bank statements going back 10 years of one of these accounts, and to have the Vatican’s auditor general, Libero Milone, a former partner with Deloitte, a multinational financial auditing and consultancy firm, inspect them. To do this, Pell had to ask in writing for Pope Francis’ permission, which the Holy Father duly gave him with a simple signature.

Yet the bank statements never made it to Cardinal Pell or Milone — both of whom subsequently departed from their Vatican positions. An alleged sexual abuse scandal overshadowed the cardinal, and a barrage of accusations besieged Milone, but a year later Vatican officials exonerated the auditor following an internal investigation that failed to produce evidence to support the accusations.

Sources say the initiative to obtain the bank statements was most likely sabotaged after certain individuals became aware of the inquiry. Officials at APSA often used the excuse that they were having difficulty obtaining the data when asked for information pertaining to these accounts.

“They were delaying it, having ‘problems,’” said one of two informed sources in comments to the Register. “Effectively they were shielding the accounts.”

A major part of the resistance, the Register has learned, is that much of the money was kept in “ciphered accounts” which the Promontory Financial Group — one of several outside contractors brought in to help clean up Vatican finances — warned in 2014 were a money laundering and fraud risk that needed to be addressed.

Read the rest at National Catholic Register