An interesting article from the Guardian caught my eye today. They uncovered that the Vatican holds property worth over $900M, that was initially financed by money given to it by Mussolini to give his dictatorship the papal seal of approval.
Few passing London tourists would ever guess that the premises of Bulgari, the upmarket jewellers in New Bond Street, had anything to do with the pope. Nor indeed the nearby headquarters of the wealthy investment bank Altium Capital, on the corner of St James's Square and Pall Mall.
But these office blocks in one of London's most expensive districts are part of a surprising secret commercial property empire owned by the Vatican.
Behind a disguised offshore company structure, the church's international portfolio has been built up over the years, using cash originally handed over by Mussolini in return for papal recognition of the Italian fascist regime in 1929.
Since then the international value of Mussolini's nest-egg has mounted until it now exceeds £500m. In 2006, at the height of the recent property bubble, the Vatican spent £15m of those funds to buy 30 St James's Square. Other UK properties are at 168 New Bond Street and in the city of Coventry. It also owns blocks of flats in Paris and Switzerland.
And they have taken a lot of effort to keep their holdings a secret.
The surprising aspect for some will be the lengths to which the Vatican has gone to preserve secrecy about the Mussolini millions. The St James's Square office block was bought by a company called British Grolux Investments Ltd, which also holds the other UK properties. Published registers at Companies House do not disclose the company's true ownership, nor make any mention of the Vatican.
Instead, they list two nominee shareholders, both prominent Catholic bankers: John Varley, recently chief executive of Barclays Bank, and Robin Herbert, formerly of the Leopold Joseph merchant bank. Letters were sent from the Guardian to each of them asking whom they act for. They went unanswered. British company law allows the true beneficial ownership of companies to be concealed behind nominees in this way.
It was only through a lot of research, which included documents from WW2 that connected the Vatican to these properties.
I don't know about you, but this sounds pretty shady to me. Why are these bastards paying no taxes?
Wonder what other riches they've kept hidden from the rest of the world.
If you visit the vatican, the interior of St. Peters is striking. You could see it as an impressive tribute, or a disgusting show of excess. The vatican museum holds more priceless objects. Other churches are more of the same. Not to mention how much land is held by the church globally. Who knows what other treasures are locked away in its bank vaults? Who knows what their liquid assets total? One thing you can be sure of, the priority of the church is not to use its power and wealth to eliminate poverty and ease the suffering of the destitute...