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Evolution of Vatican Incorporated: Papacy’s Mussolini-funded Real Estate Empire

COMMENT: We’ve spo­ken at length and in detail of the Vat­i­can’s polit­i­cal and eco­nom­ic inti­ma­cy with the Axis pri­or to, dur­ing, and after World War II. (AFA #‘s 17–21 will fill lis­ten­ers in on the fun­da­men­tals of the dis­cus­sion. FTR #504 [among oth­er pro­grams] high­lights the Vat­i­can finan­cial infra­struc­ture’s involve­ment with Nazi indus­try.) 

Sev­er­al lis­ten­ers have not­ed the sto­ry high­light­ed here, set­ting forth the evo­lu­tion of “Vat­i­can Incor­po­rat­ed” and its lucra­tive invest­ments in the real estate indus­try. 

It is inter­est­ing to con­tem­plate the fate of the Vat­i­can’s bal­ance sheet after the real estate bub­ble col­lapsed.

“Papa­cy Used Off­shore Tax Havens to Cre­ate £500m Inter­na­tional Port­fo­lio, Fea­tur­ing Real Estate in UK, France and Switzer­land” by David Leigh, Jean François Tan­da and Jes­sica Ben­hamou; The Guardian; 1/21/2013.

EXCERPT: 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.

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. . . .

. . . British wartime records from the Nation­al Archives in Kew com­plete the pic­ture. They con­firm Profi­ma SA as the Vatican’s own hold­ing com­pany, accused at the time of “engag­ing in activ­i­ties con­trary to Allied inter­ests”. Files from offi­cials at Britain’s Min­istry of Eco­nomic War­fare at the end of the war crit­i­cised the pope’s financier, Bernardi­no Nog­ara, who con­trolled the invest­ment of more than £50m cash from the Mus­solini wind­fall.

Nogara’s “shady activ­i­ties” were detailed in inter­cepted 1945 cable traf­fic from the Vat­i­can to a con­tact in Gene­va, accord­ing to the British, who dis­cussed whether to black­list Profi­ma as a result. “Nog­ara, a Roman lawyer, is the Vat­i­can finan­cial agent and Profi­ma SA in Lau­sanne is the Swiss hold­ing com­pany for cer­tain Vat­i­can inter­ests.” They believed Nog­ara was try­ing to trans­fer shares of two Vat­i­can-owned French prop­erty firms to the Swiss com­pany, to pre­vent the French gov­ern­ment black­list­ing them as ene­my assets.

Ear­lier in the war, in 1943, the British accused Nog­ara of sim­i­lar “dirty work”, by shift­ing Ital­ian bank shares into Profima’s hands in order to “white­wash” them and present the bank as being con­trolled by Swiss neu­trals. This was described as “manip­u­la­tion” of Vat­i­can finances to serve “extra­ne­ous polit­i­cal ends”.

The Mus­solini mon­ey was dra­mat­i­cally impor­tant to the Vatican’s finances. John Pol­lard, a Cam­bridge his­to­rian, says in Mon­ey and the Rise of the Mod­ern Papa­cy: “The papa­cy was now finan­cially secure. It would nev­er be poor again.” . . .

. . . From the out­set, Nog­ara was inno­v­a­tive in invest­ing the cash. In 1931 records show he found­ed an off­shore com­pany in Lux­em­bourg to hold the con­ti­nen­tal Euro­pean prop­erty assets he was buy­ing. It was called Groupe­ment Financier Lux­em­bour­geois, hence Grolux. Lux­em­bourg was one of the first coun­tries to set up tax-haven com­pany struc­tures in 1929. The UK end, called British Grolux, was incor­po­rated the fol­low­ing year. . . .

. . . While secre­cy about the Fas­cist ori­gins of the papacy’s wealth might have been under­stand­able in wartime, what is less clear is why the Vat­i­can sub­se­quently con­tin­ued to main­tain secre­cy about its hold­ings in Britain, even after its finan­cial struc­ture was reor­gan­ised in 1999.
The Guardian asked the Vatican’s rep­re­sen­ta­tive in Lon­don, the papal nun­cio, arch­bishop Anto­nio Men­nini, why the papa­cy con­tin­ued with such secre­cy over the iden­tity of its prop­erty invest­ments in Lon­don. We also asked what the pope spent the income on. True to its tra­di­tion of silence on the sub­ject, the Roman Catholic church’s spokesman said that the nun­cio had no com­ment.


2 comments for “Evolution of Vatican Incorporated: Papacy’s Mussolini-funded Real Estate Empire”

  1. The half bil­lion the arti­cle talks about sure sound light to me.

    Posted by Vanfield | February 4, 2013, 10:32 pm
  2. This is addi­tion­al­ly time­ly in light of the impend­ing papal res­ig­na­tion and the ongo­ing scan­dals brew­ing around the Vat­i­can Bank and its past rela­tion­ships with Ban­co Ambrosiano, in which it was the major share­hold­er, and the so-called Vatileaks scan­dal involv­ing inter­nal Vat­i­can doc­u­ments, let­ters and diplo­mat­ic cables that were alleged­ly tak­en by the pope’s but­ler and leaked to Ital­ian jour­nal­ists.

    Mr Emory had done a series of shows about the Vat­i­can Bank cor­rup­tions years ago which are worth check­ing out.

    Posted by babylovet | February 13, 2013, 10:48 am

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