Vatican police make new investigation into controversial London luxury property purchase

Vatican police raided the home and office of a senior Catholic Church official on Tuesday, confiscating documents and computers in the final phase of an investigation into the purchase of luxury properties in London.

The attack on Monsignor Alberto Perlasca followed the suspension last year of five Vatican officials, the resignation of the Vatican police chief and the departure of the former head of the Vatican's Financial Information Authority (AIF).

Perlasca, 59, could not be reached immediately for comment.

Although he is currently a magistrate in a Vatican court, the charges against Perlasca involve his previous position as head of administration for the Secretary of State, a Vatican statement said. He held that position until July last year.

The Vatican News official website said separately that Perlasca was suspected of embezzlement, abuse of power and corruption.

The Vatican statement said the police operation resulted from the interrogation of the five officials suspended after a similar police operation on October 1 at the offices of the AIF and the Secretariat of State - the administrative heart of the Church.

The investigation involves suspected irregularities in the estimated $ 200 million purchase of a building in London's Chelsea district several years ago as an investment using Church funds.

Pope Francis and other Vatican officials have defended the use of Church money for real estate investments, as long as they are ethical. He said last year that Church money should not be "kept in a drawer".

Cardinal Angelo Becciu, also a former senior official at the Secretary of State, said on Monday that the value of the investment in London has tripled, but that unspecified intermediaries have behaved inappropriately.

Internal mistrust

In November, the pope acknowledged that there was suspicion of corruption related to the purchase, but said he was happy that his discovery was caused by whistleblowers inside the Vatican, rather than information from outside.

The pope said that this shows that new internal financial controls are working in the Vatican, a small city-state surrounded by Rome. Last Saturday, he said the real estate case "caused disorientation and discomfort" among Catholic believers.

One of the five officials suspended after the October 1 attack was Tommaso di Ruzza, director of the AIF, or number two. The FIA ​​denied any wrongdoing.

After the first attacks, the Egmont Group suspended the Vatican from full membership due to concerns about the FIA's ability to keep confidential documents secure.

In November, the pope did not renew the five-year term of Swiss lawyer and anti-money laundering expert Rene Bruelhart as head of the AIF and appointed Carmelo Barbagallo, a respected senior official at the Bank of Italy, to succeed.

The Vatican was fully reinstated to the Toronto group last month after negotiations with Barbagallo.

Source: Reuters // Image credits: REUTERS / Stefano Rellandini

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