Vatican financial watchdog chief leaves post, weeks after police raids
The financial board, headed by departing Rene Bruelhart, denies wrongdoing in real estate investment
The Vatican said on Monday the head of its financial regulator would leave, weeks after unprecedented police raids on his organization and another key arm of the Catholic Church's bureaucracy.
Rene Bruelhart, a 47-year-old Swiss lawyer, told Reuters he had resigned from the top job at the Financial Information Authority (or AIF, an acronym of its Italian name), but did not go into further detail.
Vatican police entered the offices of the AIF and of the Secretariat of State — the administrative heart of the Catholic Church — on Oct. 1, as part of an investigation into an investment the Secretariat hade made in London real estate.
The officers, operating under a search warrant secured by the Vatican's own prosecutor, seized documents and computers.
The head of the Secretariat, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, last month acknowledged that the property deal had not been transparent and promised to shed light on it.
The AIF board, headed by Bruelhart, has said the regulator did nothing wrong when it looked over the property investment.
5 other employees suspended
A Vatican statement said Bruelhart would leave at the end of his five-year term on Tuesday and a successor would be named after Pope Francis returns from a trip to Asia on Nov. 26.
"I resigned," Bruelhart told Reuters by phone shortly after the announcement was made.
Five Vatican employees were suspended immediately after the Oct. 1 raids, including AIF director Tommaso di Ruzza.
Two weeks later, Domenico Giani, the Vatican's longtime security chief and the Pope's personal bodyguard, resigned over the leak of a document related to the investigation.
Vatican prosecutor Gian Piero Milano is looking into possible crimes such as embezzlement, abuse of office, fraud and money laundering connected to the purchase of the building by the Secretariat of State, according to people familiar with his search warrant.
The Secretariat of State spent about $200 million US in 2014 for a minority stake in a complex plan to buy the building in London's Chelsea district and convert it into luxury apartments.
In 2018, with London financial and real estate markets still rattled by Britain's decision to leave the European Union, the Secretariat of State bought the rest of the stake and became the outright owner but took on some debt to refinance.
Several Italian middlemen were involved in the operations and the Italian magazine L'Espresso, which has published leaked documents, said they may have overcharged the Vatican.
The personnel changes at the AIF come as the Vatican is preparing for a new evaluation by Moneyval, a monitoring body of the Council of Europe, which has given Vatican financial reforms mostly positive reviews in its most recent evaluations.
Moneyval executive secretary Matthias Kloth told Reuters last month after the police raids that the organization was "following developments closely." He said Moneyval's onsite visit will go ahead as scheduled next spring ahead of a new evaluation in December.