Vatican Invests Millions in Fake Highway

News: World News
by Jules Gomes  •  •  July 15, 2021   

Holy See's Swiss anti-money laundering guru accused of 'double take'

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VATICAN CITY ( - The Holy See invested seven million euros to fund the building of a nonexistent highway in North Carolina by purchasing a falsified investment bond, Vatican prosecutors have charged. 

Investment manager Enrico Crasso behind "road to nowhere"

Scandal-plagued Cdl. Angelo Becciu, then sostituto (chief of staff) in the Vatican Secretariat of State and recently fired by Pope Francis, personally approved the investment in the "road to nowhere." 

Prosecutors said the Secretariat of State was "induced to authorize a loan of over 6 million euros on the basis of a false representation," as the cash was used to fund an equity stake in three Italian companies.

"The sums in question were never allocated [by the Vatican] to the three initiatives, but to support the highway in North Carolina," and the bonds were eventually sold for a loss at 5 million euros in 2018, according to a report in The Pillar, published Thursday.

The 488-page indictment released last week names the three Italian companies as Piana Clerico 1582, a clothing company; Natural SRL, a pesticides company; and EGO Airways.

Investor: Enrico Crasso

Prosecutors have charged Enrico Crasso, then-senior investment manager at the Vatican Secretariat of State, "with the crime of aggravated fraud" for securing the dodgy investment bond. 

Investigators found two versions of a bond investment proposal during searches of Crasso's homes and other offices as well as in the offices of the Secretariat. The second version was substantially different from the original.

Prosecutors also discovered an alternative prospectus for the same bond in emails between Crasso and an officer at BSI — a Swiss bank used by the Secretariat of State until 2017, when banking authorities busted it for serial money laundering violations.

Through his company Sogenel, Crasso managed the Centurion Global Fund (CGF), in which the Vatican invested tens of millions of euros, including money from Peter's Pence, the pope's charitable fund.

Crasso managed the Centurion Global Fund (CGF), in which the Vatican invested tens of millions of euros, including money from Peter's Pence.

Catholics were outraged when the Vatican funneled €1 million ($1.1 million) from Peter's Pence into producing the Elton John biopic Rocketman, which contains "the most explicit gay love scene since Brokeback Mountain in 2005.

Watchdog Brülhart's Conflict of Interest

Meanwhile, the Holy See's top anti-money laundering guru is being accused of a conflict of interest for receiving consultancy fees from the Secretariat of State while simultaneously serving in a paid position as president of the Vatican's Financial Information Authority (AIF).

According to The Pillar, Swiss anti-money laundering specialist René Brülhart, who had been tasked by the Holy See to clean up its financial dealings, was paid at least 300,000 euros annually as president of the AIF (later renamed the ASIF) for working two days a week. 

Brülhart was also paid an additional $6,000 a month for personal expenses including regular travel to Rome. 

The Supervisory and Financial Information Authority (ASIF) is the Vatican's watchdog established in 2010 to counter money laundering and the financing of terrorism, as well as to ensure the ethical and professional operation of the Vatican's financial dealings. 

However, at the same time, the Vatican Secretariat of State separately paid Brülhart a similar amount to act as its "advisor."

The contractual relationship between Dr. Brülhart and the Secretariat of State was regulated by a formal contract signed by Cdl. Pietro Parolin. 

The arrangement is being viewed as a potential conflict of interest since Brülhart and the AIF were expected to oversee the Secretariat of State's business dealings with financial institutions. Brülhart, along with his former deputy Tommaso Di Ruzza, "seriously violated the basic rules governing supervision," said prosecutors.

Cardinal Angelo Becciu arranged for Brülhart's consultancy payments from the Secretariat of State's coffers without the knowledge of the Vatican's Secretariat for the Economy, the dicastery charged with reforming Vatican accounting and administrative procedures.

René Brülhart at the Holy See Press Office

Cdl. Parolin 'Directly Involved'?

Brülhart's lawyer denied allegations of wrongdoing. He also downplayed Becciu's role in handling the consultancy fees, indicating that Secretary of State Cdl. Pietro Parolin was directly involved. 

"In fact, the contractual relationship between Dr. Brülhart and the Secretariat of State was regulated by a formal contract signed by His Most Reverend Eminence Cdl. Pietro Parolin," the lawyer said.

Brülhart, who served as FIA president from 2012–2019, has said that the charges against him "constitutes a procedural blunder that will be immediately clarified by the organs of Vatican justice as soon as the defense will be able to exercise its rights." 

The 49-year-old Swiss lawyer, who has been commended for his work in reforming financial dealings in the principality of Lichtenstein, said that he acted "with correctness, loyalty and in the exclusive interest of the Holy See and its organs."

Under Brülhart, the Vatican Bank shut nearly 5,000 accounts, and the number of potentially suspicious transactions detected rose significantly. 

Brülhart quit his Holy See position after Vatican gendarmes raided the AIF in October 2019 and seized computers and files as part of an investigation into the financial scandal involving the purchase of a 200-million-pound ($277 million) property in London's upmarket Sloane Avenue.

The deal resulted in a loss of 18 million euros in fraud for the Vatican, investigators said.

Brülhart and former AIF director Tommaso di Ruzza are charged with abuse of office for failing to adequately protect the Vatican's interests.

A Vatican judge has ordered ten defendants, including Becciu, Brülhart and di Ruzza, to stand trial July 27 for financial crimes of embezzlement, money laundering, fraud, extortion and abuse of office.

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