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Ousted auditor says he got too close to secret Vatican accounts

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Via Financial Times

The Vatican’s former chief auditor believes he was ousted after investigating secret bank accounts, some of which have now been linked to a London property deal that has prompted an internal Holy See inquiry into possible financial irregularities.

Libero Milone told the Financial Times that he thinks he was forced to resign two years ago because of information he requested about hundreds of millions of dollars held “off the books” by Vatican entities in Switzerland.

“Some people got worried that I was about to uncover something I shouldn’t see,” said Mr Milone, a former chairman of Deloitte in Italy who was hired by Pope Francis in 2015 as the Vatican’s first chief auditor.

“We were getting too close to information that they wanted to be secret, and they fabricated a situation for me to be thrown out.”

Last month Vatican police raided the offices of its Secretariat of State, the Holy See’s central administrator, to seize documents and computers linked to a $200m investment by the agency in a plan to build 49 luxury apartments in London’s Chelsea district.

Pope Francis is greeted by Libero Milone (R), the Vatican's auditor general, during a meeting at the Vatican, April 1, 2016. Picture taken April 1 2016. Osservatore Romano/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. NO RESALES. - RC17E45F3670
Pope Francis is greeted by Libero Milone, the Vatican’s then auditor general, in 2016 © Vatican media/Reuters

Mr Milone left the Vatican after he was accused by its police of spying and embezzlement. Vatican authorities later dropped all charges, which the former chief auditor has always denied. Mr Milone said Cardinal Giovanni Angelo Becciu, then second-in-command of the Secretariat who authorised the London property deal, told him he would have to leave the Vatican.

The Vatican did not respond to a request for comment on Mr Milone’s allegations.

Speaking in 2017 after Mr Milone had left the Vatican, Cardinal Becciu rejected the former auditor’s claims that he was unfairly forced out. “He went against all the rules and was spying on the private lives of his superiors and staff, including me,” the cardinal said at the time. “If he had not agreed to resign, we would have prosecuted him.”

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This week Cardinal Becciu denied any wrongdoing. “It is accepted practice for the Holy See to invest in property, it has always done so: in Rome, in Paris, in Switzerland and also in London,” he said. “My conscience is clear and I know I have always acted in the interest of the Holy See and never in my personal one.”

Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican’s second highest-ranking official after the Pope, said this week that an investigation into the London property deal was ongoing. “We are working to clear up everything. This deal was rather opaque and now we are trying to clear it up,” he told reporters in Rome.

Mr Milone said that, when he became chief auditor in 2015, no official records existed of the hundreds of millions of dollars held by the Secretariat in Swiss bank accounts, and that he only became aware of their existence when sources outside the Holy See informed his team.

When Mr Milone eventually gained permission directly from the Pope to request information from these Swiss banks he claims his request was later blocked by others inside the Vatican.

The Vatican Secretariat in 2014 wired $200m from these Swiss accounts to a Luxembourg-incorporated fund, which used it in part to buy a minority share in a building in Chelsea. The building was already owned by the manager of the fund, Raffaele Mincione, and the share was sold at a significantly higher price than he had paid for it two years before.

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Mr Mincione and his asset management company have denied any wrongdoing.

“Internally there was no record of the Swiss accounts,” Mr Milone said. “So when I began to get close to that, some people worried that if I opened this door, that would lead to this door, and other doors.”

Many of the entities kept no accounting records, the former auditor said. “There was one entity with a lot of money which had a sheet with a nun and a pencil completing the numbers.

“Just a few years before, they were doing everything on a cash basis, all of a sudden they were being asked to do things on an accrual basis, and they didn’t have the people,” Mr Milone said. “The nuns kept doing the same things. They are nice nuns, but they didn’t have a clue.”

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