by David Leigh, Jean François
Tanda and Jessica Benhamou
featuring real estate in UK,
France and Switzerland
Behind Pope Benedict XVI is a portfolio of property
that includes commercial premises on London's New Bond Street.
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.
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
Published registers at Companies House
do not disclose the company's true ownership, nor make any mention
of the Vatican.
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
He told us after taking instructions:
Research in old archives, however, reveals more of the truth.
Companies House files disclose that British Grolux Investments inherited its entire property portfolio after a reorganization in 1999 from two predecessor companies called,
The shares of those firms were in turn
held by a company based at the address of the JP Morgan bank in New
York. Ultimate control is recorded as being exercised by a Swiss
company, Profima SA.
They confirm Profima SA as the Vatican's own holding company, accused at the time of,
Files from officials at Britain's
Ministry of Economic Warfare at the end of the war criticized the
Bernardino Nogara, who
controlled the investment of more than £50m cash from the Mussolini
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
This was described as "manipulation" of
Vatican finances to serve "extraneous political ends".
John Pollard, a Cambridge historian, says in Money and the Rise of the Modern Papacy:
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.
Mennini heads a special unit inside the
Vatican called the extraordinary division of
APSA - Amministrazione del
Patrimonio della Sede Apostolica - which handles the so-called
"patrimony of the Holy See".
True to its tradition of silence
on the subject, the Roman Catholic church's spokesman said that the
nuncio had no comment.