VATICAN CITY (AP) — Vatican police on Tuesday raided the home and office of the Vatican monsignor who signed the contracts related to a botched London real estate venture that is under investigation by Holy See prosecutors.
Documents and computers were seized from the office and home of Monsignor Alberto Perlasca, a longtime chief of staff in the administrative office of the Vatican’s secretariat of state, the Vatican said Tuesday.
A press statement stressed that Perlasca, who was quietly transferred to a post at the Vatican’s high court as the real estate investigation heated up last summer, enjoys the presumption of innocence.
It wasn’t clear why Perlasca’s paperwork and computers were only being seized now, five months after police raided other offices in the secretariat of state and the Vatican’s financial watchdog agency. As chief of staff, Perlasca administered the secretariat of state’s multi-million euro asset portfolio and played a key role in executing the London deal on behalf of his superiors.
The Vatican said only that the searches were authorized after prosecutors conducted preliminary interrogations in the case.
Five other Holy See employees were suspended after the Oct. 1 raids. To date, Vatican prosecutors haven’t charged anyone and haven’t interviewed all five suspended employees. The slow pace of the investigation, the failure of prosecutors to take testimony from the purported suspects and gaps in the case suggest that the investigation was at least sparked by a turf war in the Vatican.
The bulk of prosecutor’s initial search warrant concerned the secretariat of state’s 2012 investment of 150 million euros ($165 million) in a luxury apartment building in London’s Chelsea neighborhood.
The mortgage turned out to be onerous, the property lost its value amid Brexit concerns and middlemen managing the venture were making millions from the Vatican in fees.
The secretariat of state in 2018 decided to buy the building outright but needed an extra 150-million euro loan from the Vatican bank to buy out the other investors and extinguish the mortgage.
The bank director and the auditor general’s office raised an alarm with Vatican prosecutors alleging the buyout looked suspicious, sparking the Oct. 1 raids.
Apparently unbeknownst to the Vatican prosecutor, the Vatican’s own in-house financial watchdog, the Financial Information Authority, was already investigating the deal and had launched a cross-border hunt along with the financial intelligence units of a half-dozen other European countries.
The prosecutor’s Oct. 1 raids put a stop to AIF’s own efforts, and resulted in the Holy See being suspended temporarily from a global network of intelligence units that cooperate in fighting financial crimes.
Just last weekend, Pope Francis voiced his support for the Vatican prosecutors and police, saying he had “full trust in their work.”