By Philip Pullella
VATICANCITY (Reuters) – The Vatican’s number two acknowledged on Tuesday that the Holy See’s deal to buy a luxury building in London was not transparent and promised to shed light on it.
The comments from Cardinal Pietro Parolin were the first by a top Vatican official on a saga that began a month ago when Vatican police raided the Secretariat of the State, the department he heads, and those of the Vatican’s Financial Information Authority (AIF).
“We are working to clear up everything. This deal was rather opaque and now we are trying to clear it up,” he said on the sidelines of a book launch at the Italian embassy to the Vatican in Rome.
The current scandal has been mushrooming and is shaping up to be one of the most serious in decades for an institution whose bank and other offices have been embroiled in numerous cases of corruption.
Five Vatican employees were suspended following the police raids on Oct. 1, including four in Parolin’s department, and AIF director Tommaso di Ruzza.
Two weeks later, Domenico Giani, the Vatican’s longtime security chief and Pope Francis’ personal bodyguard, resigned over the leak of a document related to a magistrate’s investigation of the deal.
The Secretariat of State, the nerve centre of the bureaucracy of the 1.3 billion-member Church, spent about $200 million in 2014 for a minority stake in a complex plan to buy a building in London’s Chelsea district and convert it into luxury apartments, according to people familiar with the events.
In 2018 the Secretariat of State bought the rest of the stake and became the outright owner but took on some debt to refinance.
Several Italian middlemen were involved in the operations and the Italian magazine L’Espresso, which has published leaked documents, said they may have overcharged the Vatican.
Last week the AIF, the internal regulator, issued a statement rejecting Milan’s accusations that it acted improperly, raising the stakes in an awkward internal conflict for the pope. The AIF board also confirmed its confidence in Di Ruzza.
L’Espresso reported that at least some of the money used to buy the London property as an investment came from Peter’s Pence, the yearly collection taken up around the world and destined for the pope’s charities.
In his comments on Tuesday, Parolin suggested the purchase of the building was a one-off episode and said he believed the fund was “well managed.”
(Reporting by Philip Pullella; Editing by Sandra Maler)