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Vatican Indicts Cardinal, Broker, 8 Others Over London Real Estate Deal

St. Peter's Square in Vatican City, seen from the dome of St. Peter's Basilica in 2007

The legal body of the Vatican has indicted 10 individuals and four companies in a fraud investigation centered around a piece of London commercial real estate.

The Court of First Instance in the Vatican City State charged five former Vatican officials, including Cardinal Giovanni Angelo Becciu, Italian broker Gianluigi Torzi and others on counts including embezzlement, abuse of office, extortion and fraud on Saturday, the Associated Press reports. The charges stem from the purchase of 60 Sloane Street, an office building in the Chelsea area of London into which the Vatican purchased a 45% stake in 2014 for £154M, or about $200M.

Becciu served as chief of staff for the Secretariat of State, which counts among its duties managing the Holy See's real estate holdings, until he was asked to resign from his position last year by Pope Francis for allegedly directing a large donation of papal funds to a charity run by his brother, the AP reports. Becciu denied all wrongdoing at the time of his resignation and again when the indictment was handed out, calling himself "a victim of a plot hatched against me" in a statement released on Saturday and reported by the AP.

The Vatican's investment into 60 Sloane Street, led by Becciu, represented a sharp increase in valuation from when it was purchased by private investor Raffaele Mincione in 2012 for £115M. The holding company controlled by the Vatican bought out the remainder of Mincione's share in 2018, triggering an investigation when it sought to refinance the debt on the building with the Vatican Bank.

The Vatican retained Torzi's services for its 2018 purchase, with the knowledge of Secretariat of State leadership and Francis himself, but Torzi allegedly included a last-minute clause that gave himself full voting control over the property, the AP reports. Torzi is accused of extorting €15M for his part of the deal.

The application for debt refinancing on 60 Sloane Street that triggered the investigation also brought its valuation back down to earth, losing the Vatican millions of euros that had come from Peter's Pence, the papacy's main charitable fund that brings in donations from across the world. Since the investigation was made public, donations to Peter's Pence have dropped sharply, the AP reports.