Developers acting for the Vatican Secretariat of State offered to raze a London parish hall and rectory and replace it with low-cost housing, in order to try to push through a luxury apartment development. The luxury development project involves two recently suspended Vatican employees, and a nest of Vatican-controlled holding companies led by an architect linked to accusations of money laundering and fraud involving Vatican accounts.
In a June 2016 proposal submitted to local authorities in the Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, a developer seeking permission to develop luxury apartments at 60 Sloane Ave offered London’s St. Pius X parish hall and rectory as a location for building the low-income housing required by law to offset the luxury development.
The inclusion of the parish property in the planning application was facilitated by officials at the Vatican Secretariat of State, who visited the parish and worked with the local Archdiocese of Westminster to secure the cooperation of the parish pastor.
The involvement of the Vatican in developing the proposal comes to light after Cardinal Angelo Becciu, who authorized the Vatican’s investment, described the Holy See’s involvement in the real estate development as a matter of ordinary business, denying there was anything suspicious about the transaction.
“It is accepted practice for the Holy See to invest in property, it has always done so: in Rome, in Paris, in Switzerland and also in London,” Becciu said in October, insisting that the deal was “regular and registered according to law.”
The planning application was submitted on behalf of 60 SA Ltd., a private holding company registered in Jersey, a tax shelter in the Channel Islands, which owns the building and in which the Vatican had invested $200 million in borrowed money.
The parish property was that of St. Pius X parish in London’s Notting Hill neighborhood.
Fr. Peter Wilson, pastor of St. Pius X, said officials from the Archdiocese of Westminster visited his parish before the proposal was submitted, along with an unnamed official from the Holy See, who outlined plans for the property, which would have incorporated substantial low-income housing units into a new mixed use development.
“I knew that there was somebody from the Holy See coming along, whom I met, but I didn’t know why he was involved,” Wilson said. “The wider provenance of the plan was never vouchsafed to me.”
“They were going to knock down the presbytery and build a block of flats here. They told me I could have one flat in the block of flats and my heart rather sank, but who am I to argue with those above my station?”
The low-income housing proposal was turned down by London development authorities, who said it was haphazard, and noted there is no shortage of low income housing in the area of the parish, several miles from the luxury development. The developers eventually offered local authorities £12 million in lieu of the affordable housing requirement, in order for the luxury development to be approved.
The parish proposal suggests the involvement of Vatican officials in the development project was considerably more expansive than initially reported, as Church officials were a part of the development’s early planning details, rather than simply passive investors.
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