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Vatican investigation developments

Service Area: Criminal and Regulatory

Member: Roger Isaacs

An ongoing investigation into alleged financial misconduct involving a Vatican real estate scandal appears to be behind the sudden resignation of a cardinal.

A one-line statement issued on 25 September said that Pope Francis had accepted the resignation of Cardinal Giovanni Angelo Becciu, head of the department that is responsible for deciding who will be given a sainthood of the Roman Catholic Church.

Until 2018, Cardinal Becciu was Deputy Secretary of State at the Vatican and it was during his tenure that the Secretariat of State used Vatican money to buy a luxury property in Chelsea, London in a deal said to have “enriched middlemen”.

The investigation, which is being carried out by the Vatican itself, first came to light after a raid on the offices of the Vatican’s banking regulator in October 2019.

It led to the resignation of the Vatican’s chief of security, the removal of several Vatican finance officials, and the arrest in June 2020 of an Italian banker, who acted as an intermediary for the Holy See in the real estate transaction.

Forensic investigators have been following the financial trail relating to a number of real estate transactions, particularly to expensive properties in London.

They are also investigating the use of money from Peter’s Pence, a fund taken up in parishes around the world and earmarked for the Pope’s charitable activities.

Roger Isaacs, Forensic Partner at Milsted Langdon, said: “The finances of the Holy See have been the subject of rumour and scandal for decades. No doubt the Pope had hoped that by hiring an anti-mafia prosecutor it would be possible for the Vatican to clean up its financial affairs.

Inevitably a clean-up operation can result in the discovery of wrongdoing that then becomes exposed, especially if criminal proceedings are brought against those suspected of having broken the law.

It is for this reason that we often see fraudsters going unpunished, especially in the charitable sector.  Organisations that rely on their reputations for their income tend, understandably, to be reticent to disclose that the hard-won fruits of their fundraising efforts may have been misappropriated.  The victims of fraud all too often feel that they are somehow to blame for not having prevented it but the reality is that it is impossible to make any financial system 100% secure.

Even if a fraud is reported to the Police, the prosecuting authorities seem to have little appetite to pursue those suspected of financial crimes.  It may be for that reason we have started to see an increase in Private Prosecutions for fraud, in which forensic accountancy expert evidence typically plays a pivotal role ”

Author: Roger Isaacs

28 September 2020

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