Pope Francis has announced the head of the Vatican’s financial watchdog agency, dubbed the 007 of anti-money laundering, has left his post after a controversial Vatican police raid on their offices.
Francis thanked Rene Bruelhart for his work as president of the Financial Intelligence Authority (AIF) as his term ended. The Vatican said the replacement’s name would be released next week.
Bruelhart, a 47-year-old Swiss lawyer, insisted he had resigned but did not go into further detail.
Vatican police entered the offices of the regulator, and the Secretariat of State on October 1, seizing documents and computers and sending shockwaves through the clerical establishment.
The action followed a search warrant secured by the Vatican’s own prosecutor as part of an investigation into a real estate investment in London by the Secretariat – the administrative heart of the worldwide Catholic Church.
Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin last month acknowledged that the deal was not 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.
A Vatican statement said Bruelhart would leave at the end of his five-year mandate on Tuesday and a successor would be named after Pope Francis returns from a trip to Asia on November 26. It did not go into the reasons for his exit.
‘I resigned,’ Bruelhart told Reuters by phone shortly after the announcement was made.
Five Vatican employees were suspended immediately after the 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.
The Vatican said Bruelhart’s successor would be announced soon in order to ‘assure continuity’.
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 in 2014 for a minority stake in a complex plan to buy the building in Chelsea and convert it into luxury apartments, only to see tens of millions end up in the pockets of middlemen managing the venture.
The secretariat of state in 2018 decided to buy the building outright while working with British authorities to nab the middlemen.
But internally, the Vatican bank and auditor general’s office raised an alarm with Vatican prosecutors that the buyout looked suspicious, sparking the raids on AIF and the secretariat of state.
As a result, the Vatican investigation appears more the result of an internal turf battle – between the Vatican bank on one side, and the secretariat of state and AIF on the other – over the secretariat of state’s sizeable financial assets, which are kept outside the bank and off the Vatican’s balance sheet.
Written by: Jack Newman