Vatican legal fight over luxury flats Jul 20, 2020 12:58:28 GMT 4
Post by anenro on Jul 20, 2020 12:58:28 GMT 4
Vatican legal fight over luxury flats
The secretive world of Vatican finances will be laid bare in a legal dispute examining the alleged use of charitable donations from churchgoers around the world to buy prime London property.
Two claims have been lodged at the High Court against the Vatican over the purchase of 60 Sloane Avenue, a Chelsea block earmarked for development into luxury apartments.
The cases pit the Pope and the Holy See against Raffaele Mincione, a millionaire financier who is the former fiancé of the model Heather Mills, the ex-wife of Sir Paul McCartney.
The litigation threatens to unpick a complex web of transactions involving Swiss banks, investment funds based in Luxembourg and, allegedly, millions of pounds donated by Roman Catholics in the annual Peter’s Pence collection for papal good causes.
If the cases proceed to public hearings they will heighten the Pope’s embarrassment over a property deal that has led to Vatican police raiding the state’s own financial regulator, senior officials being suspended and the arrest of a London-based middleman accused of extortion and embezzlement.
The dispute took a further twist last Wednesday when Mr Mincione, 55, had his phones and tablet computers seized by Vatican authorities and Italian police at a hotel in Rome.
The financier is the former owner of the distinctive building at the centre of the affair. It was built in 1911 as a car showroom for nearby Harrods and its ornate terracotta façade now hides a glass and steel 1990s office and retail block. The plan is to turn it into a residential complex with 49 units.
Today the property is owned by SA60 Ltd, which is registered at the office of law firm Mishcon de Reya, but ultimately controlled by the secretariat of state of the Holy See, the Vatican’s central political department.
Mr Mincione, who has been based in London since the 1980s and dated Ms Mills after meeting her at Stringfellows nightclub, has consistently denied any impropriety and insists that the sale was a good deal for the church.
He has lodged two connected legal claims against the Vatican. His Luxembourg-based Athena Capital Fund, which helped to finance the transaction, filed a commercial contract claim against the secretariat of state. Separately his WRM Group, which has offices in London, Milan and Luxembourg, filed a claim against SA60 Ltd. The details of the claims are not publicly available but the parties have hired some of London’s biggest legal names. The Vatican is represented by Mishcon de Reya and Mr Mincione has instructed Withers and Charles Russell Speechlys.
The Sloane Avenue saga began in 2014 when the Vatican worked through an international bank with Mr Mincione to take a minority stake in the building and the proposed redevelopment. The investment was undertaken by the secretariat of state rather than the Vatican’s bank, the Institute for Religious Works. The secretariat is custodian of the Peter’s Pence millions, collected annually at churches across the globe to help “the most needy and ecclesiastical communities in difficulty”.
By 2016 the development proposal had received planning consent but the EU referendum created property market instability with falling prices and currency fluctuations.
Two years later Vatican officials bought the building outright from Mr Mincione. The Holy See invested further millions and used Gianluigi Torzi, 41, a financial adviser, as a middleman to complete the sale.
The overall purchase, completed in November 2018, is estimated to have cost the Vatican between £300 million and £450 million.
In October last year the Vatican authorities opened a criminal investigation into the deal, with the police conducting an unprecedented raid on the state’s financial conduct authority.