The Vatican City State of Dark Money

By Betty Clermont | 1 September 2019
The Open Tabernacle

(Image: João Máximo / Flickr)

The Vatican City State is an independent country. The head of state is addressed as “Holy Father” and his government is called the Holy See. There is no complete and accurate account of the Vatican’s investments, commercial real estate, bank accounts, currencies and gold because, with few exceptions, the Holy Father wants his wealth to remain hidden.

Two recent reports provide some additional information as to why this is true. The first not only gives us a hint of the Vatican’s massive wealth, but also “money laundering and fraud” are possibly involved. The second informs us that the Vatican’s top financial policeman was accused of money laundering and collusion in the cover-up of a financial crime. 

The Vatican has two Swiss bank accounts that hold “as much as €7 billion,” as reported by Vatican expert, Edward Pentin, on July 22. These bank accounts are managed by the Administration of the Patrimony of the Holy See (APSA) which handles the Vatican’s investment portfolio, some commercial real estate and “large amounts of unregistered cash in offshore accounts,” according to Pentin.

“There is a hub of corruption within APSA” related to these two Swiss banks. “Highly irregular transactions were transiting through these banks,” a reliable source told Pentin.

According to the Tax Justice Network, “Switzerland is the global capital of bank secrecy …. Financial secrecy is a key facilitator of financial crime, and illicit financial flows including money laundering, corruption and tax evasion.”

Cardinal George Pell, Prefect of the Secretariat for the Economy, had “identified money laundering and fraud risks related to the APSA’s use of foreign bank accounts and questioned particular asset and real estate transactions,” reported Pentin.  (Pell was later convicted by an Australian court on five criminal charges of sexually assaulting two boys.)

“Sources say only few officials within APSA know the true extent of the Vatican’s foreign real estate portfolio, which is held largely ‘off the books’ [and] estimated to be worth at least €800 million,” Pentin wrote.

APSA’s investments are “hidden behind layer after layer of false fronts and holding companies,” noted John F. Pollard in his book, Money and the Rise of the Modern Papacy (p 149).

“Propaganda Fide, the Vatican department responsible for missionary works and related activities, controls about 2,000 apartments valued at €9 billion, which last year reportedly earned €56 million in rents,” Paddy Agnew reported in 2010.

If there’s close to €10 billion in commercial real estate and €7 billion in just two bank accounts that we know of, Vatican wealth has been underestimated by even the best experts. The Italian financial newspaper, Il Sole 24 Ore, had valued Vatican assets – investments, commercial properties, gold reserves, bank accounts, cash –  to be €15-17 billion “by a conservative estimate” in 2015.

“APSA has 187 million euro in currencies, 32,232 ounces in bullion and 3,122 ounces of gold coins (worth 30.8 million euro) in Switzerland and England,” Italian journalist, Emiliano Fittipaldi, reported in 2014.

The Vatican has $50 million in gold on deposit at the U.S. Federal Reserve, stated Fortune magazine in 2014.

Within months of his election, Pope Francis appointed Peter Sutherland as a “consultor” to APSA.  Sutherland was managing director and chairman of Goldman Sachs International, former chairman of BP Oil,  European chairman of the Trilateral Commission and on the steering committee for the “secretive” Bilderberg Conference.

The Holy Father appointed Argentine Bishop Gustavo Óscar Zanchetta as assessor of APSA in December 2017. Zanchetta was “a surprising appointment, because at APSA the position of assessor did not exist and was invented for the occasion,” wrote Vatican reporter, Sandro Magister. Zanchetta had been Bishop of Orán when he was “forced to resign” because “there were numerous complaints about economic mismanagement” according to the Argentine press.

In June 2019, an Argentine prosecutor charged Zanchetta with “aggravated continuous sexual abuse [of seminarians].” Yet he remains employed by the Vatican working at APSA, as reported by Ines San Martin.

The Institute for the Works of Religion, often referred to as the Vatican Bank, reported net assets of 654.6 million euro in 2018.

After 9/11, laws were put in place regulating anti-money laundering and combating terrorist financing (AML/CTF) around the world. The IOR was forced to begin producing audited statements in 2012 in order to continue doing business in international financial markets.

“In fact, who knows which are the real assets managed? Who knows the real results?”asked Italian journalist, Marco Tosatti.

suit was brought by Holocaust victims and their heirs in U.S. Federal Court based on U.S. government records that reported the deposit of gold in the IOR by the Nazi-allied Croatian government. The suit alleges that gold and other assets stolen from concentration camp victims were deposited in the Vatican after World War II. The case was dismissed in 2010 on grounds of Vatican sovereign immunity to lawsuits filed in the United States.

The Vatican’s 2016 ratification of the United Nations Convention against Corruption was dismissed as mere “window dressing” because it included “two reservations and three interpretative declarations. One of these reservations states that the Vatican reserves the right not to participate in any ‘appropriate mechanism or body to assist in the effective implementation of the Convention.’”

That reservation might be useful if anyone investigated the Vatican financial institutions  in the Cayman Islands and/or the Turks and Caicos. Both locations are known as havens for off-shore bank secrecy. Both were removed under Church law from their geographical dioceses of Kingston, Jamaica and Nassau, Bahamas respectively and created as “independent missions.”

René Bruelhart, head of the Financial Information Authority

Like the IOR’s audited and public financial statements, the Vatican’s Financial Information Authority was created out of necessity. Pope Benedict XVI signed a Monetary Agreement with the European Union in December 2009 as a requirement before the Vatican could obtain permission to continue minting their own euro coins. The agreement called for the Vatican to regulate its finances in accordance with the European Union’s anti-money laundering and combating terrorist financing (AML/CTF) Code of Practice.

The deadline for compliance with the Agreement was Dec. 31, 2010. Pope Benedict issued a law creating a Financial Information Authority as the Vatican’s financial regulator the day before.

The FIA was given financial supervision over all the institutes and offices of the Vatican City State and the Vatican bureaucracy including APSA and the IOR. René Brülhart, a Swiss lawyer, was appointed as director.

Pope Francis promoted Brülhart from director to president of the FIA in November 2014.

“My role at the Holy See carries a certain amount of moral responsibility,” Brülhart said in a 2017 article reporting he also held a position on the board of a Swiss mortgage lender. “Formerly Liechtenstein’s top anti-money laundering expert, it is Brülhart’s role at the Holy See which has raised the 45-year-old lawyer’s profile internationally,” according to the finews.asia report.

“When I started to serve the Holy See, I was engaged as an independent adviser to the financial services industry,” Brülhart said. A footnote reported he is also “a board member of two corporations in Zurich tied to his advisory work.”

Brülhart’s company, RnB AG, founded in 2012, is headquartered in Zurich. RnB AG provides “management consulting services.”  In addition, “he is Chairman of the Board and responsible for a third of the Swiss branch of the global TD International”  which also provides “business consulting services.”

On May 12, the Swiss newspaper Tribune de Geneve stated that assets of both of Brülhart’s companies had been frozen by the Swiss courts since October 2018 based on a report by the anti-money laundering authority, according to Manfred Rist.

“In 2016 and 2017, Petrosaudi paid some 2.5 million francs in fees to Brülhart’s companies,” Kazi Mamood reported. The oil company is accused of the massive embezzlement of S$1.8 billion from the Malaysian state investment fund, 1MDB.

“The Swiss Bank, in the case of the 2.5 million francs Petrosaudi paid to the two Brülhart companies, wanted to clarify the background of the payments. Apparently, they received no satisfactory explanation. Therefore, it came to the money laundering reporting office. From there, a message of suspicion was received in September 2018 at the office of the Swiss Attorney General Michel Lauber.” In addition to the Swiss courts, “the U.S. attorney’s office blocked the ‘corresponding assets promptly,’” according to Rist.

However, “there has been no action from Switzerland or from Lauber despite the volumes of evidence available to the Swiss authorities,” Mamood noted.

“Brülhart and Lauber met almost 20 years ago. Since then, they are friends. ‘They meet in irregular intervals in private,’ confirmed a spokeswoman for the U.S. attorney’s office,” Rist reported.

As a result, there are “rumors of collusion and attempts by Lauber to cover-up the scandal” to protect Brülhart, Mamood wrote.

Regardless of the outcome, “the money laundering expert and fighter maintained lucrative business contacts with 1MDB scammers and blackmailers who are also involved in money laundering,” Rist observed.

Apparently neither Pope Francis nor Brülhart see any conflict of interest between these business contacts and his “role at the Holy See carrying a certain amount of moral responsibility.”

In the Holy Fathers’s first interview with the press following his election, the former Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio said he chose the name “Francis” after St. Francis of Assisi because he wanted “a poor Church for the poor.” If he truly wanted that, he could have hired forensic accountants like those in the FBI and Interpol to clean up the Augean stable of Vatican finance. Just as, if this pope truly wanted to curb child sex abuse, he could have put into practice those actions recommended by survivor groups and/or their advocates like SNAP and BishopAccountability.org.

Reprinted with permission from the author.

Betty Clermont is author of The Neo-Catholics: Implementing Christian Nationalism in America (Clarity Press, 2009).

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