Heather Mills’ Ex-Fiance Sues Vatican over £450m Property Deal

Pope Francis speaks during his weekly general audience on St. Peter's Square at the Vatican City on May 1, 2019. (Photo by Tiziana FABI / AFP) (Photo credit should read TIZIANA FABI/AFP/Getty Images)
TIZIANA FABI/AFP/Getty Images

ROME — Millionaire financier Raffaele Mincione has filed two claims against the Holy See at the UK High Court over the Vatican’s purchase of 60 Sloane Avenue, a prime Chelsea property slated for development into luxury apartments.

Mr. Mincione, former fiancé of the model Heather Mills, the ex-wife of Sir Paul McCartney, is the former owner of the disputed property. Today the building is owned by SA60 Ltd, which is ultimately governed by the Vatican’s Secretariat of State.

Last Wednesday, Italian police under Vatican authority seized Mr. Mincione’s phones and tablet computer at a Rome hotel. According to reports in Italian media, authorities believe that in brokering the 2012 London deal for the Vatican, Mincione acted with “evident conflict of interest” and that he used part of the Holy See’s funds for “personal gain.”

The Vatican allegedly lost some 18 million euros on the deal.

News of the £300-£450 million Vatican investment deal raised eyebrows when it was revealed that the Secretariat of State had employed funds obtained by the annual worldwide “Peter’s Pence” collection destined for the charitable works of the pope.

So far, the investigation has resulted in the sacking of 5 Vatican employees and has cast an unfavorable light upon Cardinal Angelo Becciu, who at the time was in charge of the general affairs of the Secretariat, as well as his successor in the post, Edgar Peña Parra, appointed by Pope Francis.

The pope, who has made financial reform a hallmark of his papacy, has been plagued with a series of financial scandals, leading to Vatican police raiding its own financial regulator, the suspension of senior officials, and the arrest of Mincione’s replacement, financial middleman Gianluigi Torzi, accused of extortion, embezzlement, aggravated fraud, and money laundering.

The Italian daily Corriere della Sera reported last December that the Vatican Secretariat of State had engaged in other questionable investments as well, sinking upwards of a million dollars to finance the Rocketman film, a steamy biopic of singer-songwriter Elton John with a graphic scene of gay sex.

The Vatican also invested some €6 million to become a 25-percent partner in Lapo Elkann’s eyewear and “lifestyle products” company, using money donated by the Catholic faithful, as well as becoming a €10 million partner with industrialist Enrico Preziosi, the chairman of the Genoa soccer team, according to a report from Il Giornale.

Through his Luxembourg-based Athena Capital Fund, Mr. Mincione has now filed a commercial contract claim against the Holy See and his WRM Group filed a separate claim against SA60 Ltd. The details of the claims are not publicly available but Italian media suggest the counter-offensive is intended to embarrass the Vatican and put it on its heels while disputing appraisals of the value of the property in question.

The Vatican initially invested in partial ownership of the Sloane property (45 percent), but in 2018 Vatican officials purchased the building outright from Mincione.

In October of last year the Vatican authorities opened a criminal investigation into the deal, with the police conducting an unprecedented raid on the state’s financial authority.

Last November, Pope Francis declared that all Church investments should support ethical enterprises. “If from Peter’s Pence you invest in a weapons factory, the pence is not a pence there, eh?” he said.

Francis acknowledged at the time that the Secretariat of State’s investment in the Sloane Ave. London property development in Chelsea had caused a “scandal.”

“They have done things that do not seem clean,” he said.

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