ROME – In the latest fallout from a burgeoning financial scandal involving a controversial $220 million land deal in London, the Vatican announced Tuesday that internal investigators have seized documents and computers from the office and residence of the former head of a powerful department responsible for investments.
“This morning, in the context of a search ordered by the Promoter of Justice, Gian Piero Milano, and his Adjunct Alessandro Diddi, a seizure was executed of documents and computer equipment in the office and residence of Monsignor Alberto Perlasca, ex-administrative office head in the First Section of the Secretariat of State,” Tuesday’s communique said.
The Secretariat of State is the Vatican’s central coordinating department, and the first section oversees routine ecclesiastical governance. Perlasca, 60, had been the head of an office within the first section responsible for managing Vatican investments until July 26, when Pope Francis named him to a position with the Apostolic Signatura, the Vatican’s supreme court.
In the Secretariat of State, Perlasca had been involved on multiple fronts with respect to Vatican finances, including being part of the administrative council for the Vatican pension fund and its health care plan, as well as sitting on the board of the Vatican-sponsored pediatric hospital Bambino Gesù.
The Vatican statement said that despite a presumption of innocence, the raid on Perlasca resulted from “initial interrogations of employees under investigation who’ve been suspended from service.”
The reference was to five Vatican officials suspended in October amid an internal review of a deal made by the Secretariat of State to purchase a 183,000-square-foot property in the London neighborhood of Chelsea, consisting of a former warehouse belonging to the Harrod’s department store slated for conversion into luxury apartments. Funds for that initial purchase were drawn from the collections for “Peter’s Pence,” an annual appeal to Catholics worldwide to support the activities of the pope.
In his former position, Perlasca was also responsible for overseeing the administration of the Peter’s Pence fund.
The investigation was triggered after the Secretariat of State requested a loan from the Vatican bank to buy the property outright, reportedly without following reporting requirements under new financial transparency laws decreed by Francis.
As part of that initial inquest, Vatican police seized documents from the Financial Information Authority (AIF), an anti-money laundering watchdog group established under Pope Benedict XVI, which led to the Vatican being temporarily suspended from the world’s main international anti-money laundering federation over security concerns.
The Egmont Group readmitted the Vatican in late January, despite the fact that in the meantime the head of AIF, Swiss lawyer Rene Brülhart and a former vice-chair of the Egmont Group, was forced out of his Vatican position.
In a recent speech to Vatican judges marking the opening of their judicial year, Francis made an indirect reference to the London scandal.
Such irregularities, he said, “beyond their possible criminality, are hard to reconcile with the nature and purpose of the Church, and they’ve created confusion and worry within the community of the faithful.”
Tuesday’s Vatican statement said the investigation will continue.
“The Office of the Promoter of Justice and the Gendarmes are continuing with investigations of administrative-accounting nature, and in their cooperation with external investigative authorities,” it said.
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