Vatican sells scandal-tainted London building, predicts deficit

Vatican sells scandal-tainted London building, predicts deficit

The Vatican said Friday it had sold the luxury London building at the centre of a financial scandal involving charity donations, as it predicted another year of deficit in 2022.

Fewer donations and lower ticket sales during the coronavirus pandemic have strained the Vatican’s coffers, already hit by a series of ruinous investments a decade ago.

Pope Francis has vowed to bring more transparency to the Vatican’s financial dealings in the wake of the opaque, money-losing investment in the building on Sloane Avenue in London’s upmarket Chelsea district — now at the heart of a major financial fraud trial that began in July.

“The contract of sale has been signed, we have received 10 percent of the deposit and it will be concluded in June 2022,” Economy Minister Juan Antonio Guerrero told the Vatican News site, the Vatican’s information portal.

The Holy See did not specify the buyer nor disclose a price, but a Vatican source said it was acquired by US private equity group Bain Capital.

Britain’s Financial Times first reported on the deal in November, saying the Vatican would lose 100 million pounds ($134 million) on its 350 million euros ($391 million) investment, which began back in 2014.

Separately, on Friday, the Vatican unveiled its estimated 2022 budget, foreseeing a net deficit of 33.4 million euros, its 769 million euros in revenue surpassed by 803 million euros in spending.

The Secretariat for the Economy had previously disclosed an estimated 49.7 million euro deficit in 2021. Final figures have not been published.

The 2022 estimated budget is not comparable to last year’s, however, as it now includes 30 new entities besides the central government’s budget, including the Bambino Gesu children’s hospital and the four papal basilicas in Rome.

In 2014, Pope Francis created the powerful Secretariat for the Economy, which published its first-ever budget forecast in 2021, in order to rectify the Vatican’s finances and combat fraud.

In an interview with Vatican News published Friday, its prefect Juan Antonio Guerrero said he wanted to learn from “big mistakes in financial management in the past”, through more transparency and better controls.

Among the defendants in the ongoing trial held at the Vatican is Cardinal Angelo Becciu, a former right-hand man to Francis who stripped him of his cardinal privileges but not his title.

Prosecutors have painted a picture of risky investments with little or no oversight, double-dealing by outside consultants and insiders trusted with the financial interests of the Secretariat of State, the Vatican’s most important department charged with general affairs and diplomacy. — Agence France-Presse


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