Scandal-Ridden Legionaries of Christ Named in Pandora Papers

Chilean President Sebastián Piñera, Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati, and former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair have all been named in the exposé of the financial secrets and offshore dealings known as the Pandora Papers. However, there’s only one Catholic institution named: The Legionaries of Christ religious order.

The order was founded by Father Marcial Maciel, who was later credibly accused of abusing children and instituting a cult-like atmosphere within the institution.

Just three days before an intervention of the ordered authorized by Pope Benedict XVI began in 2010, they set up a scheme to absorb money through three trusts in New Zealand. These allowed them to hide millions in assets from the Vatican, and avoid paying taxes on investments in real estate, technology, oil companies, and even the company behind Kentucky Fried Chicken.

The downfall of the Legionaries of Christ began in 1998, when nine men went to the Vatican to formally accuse Maciel of sexually abusing them. In 2006, at the age of 85, he was suspended from ministry and died two years later.

In late 2009 an apostolic visitation was ordered by the pontiff, and shortly afterwards Cardinal Velasio De Paolis was appointed to impose “structural changes” in the Legion, and the order underwent a five-year process of renewal.

But on the eve of De Paolis’s public appointment – after it had been revealed to the Legionaries – priests and businessmen close to the order set up an opaque network of trusts and subsidiary companies that have been used over the past decade. These tax heaven accounts, according to Spanish newspaper El Pais, have accumulated more than $295 million in assets in sectors such as real estate, technology, oil, and fast food.

This weekend, the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists released an exposé of the financial secrets and offshore dealings of dozens of heads of state, public officials, politicians, artists and sports stars from 91 countries and territories. Hundreds of journalists spent two years investigating nearly 12 million confidential files that compose the so-called Pandora Papers.

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