ROME (AP) — A Vatican judge on Saturday indicted 10 people, including a once-powerful cardinal, on charges including embezzlement, abuse of office, extortion and fraud in connection with the Secretariat of State’s 350 million-euro investment in a London real estate venture.
The president of the Vatican’s criminal tribunal, Giuseppe Pignatone, set July 27 as the trial date, according to a Vatican press statement.
The indictments were handed down following a sprawling, two-year investigation into how the Secretariat of State managed its vast asset portfolio, much of which is funded by the Peter’s Pence donations from the faithful. The scandal has resulted in a sharp reduction in donations and prompted Pope Francis to strip the office of its ability to manage the money.
Five former Vatican officials, including Cardinal Angelo Becciu and two officials from the Secretariat of State, were indicted, as well as Italian businessmen who handled the London investment.
Also indicted on alleged embezzlement charges was an Italian intelligence expert accused of buying luxury goods with Holy See money intended to help free Catholics held hostage
Vatican prosecutors accuse the main suspects of bilking millions of euros from the Holy See in fees and other losses related to financial investments that were funded in large part by donations to the pope for works of charity. The suspects have denied wrongdoing.
One of the main suspects in the case, Italian broker Gianluigi Torzi, is accused of having extorted the Vatican out of 15 million euros to turn over ownership of the London building in late 2018. Torzi had been retained by the Vatican to help it acquire full ownership of the building from another indicted money manager who had handled the initial investment in 2013, but lost money on what the Vatican said were speculative, imprudent investments.
Vatican prosecutors allege Torzi inserted a last-minute clause into the contract giving him full voting rights in the deal.
The Vatican hierarchy, however, signed off on the contract, with both the pope’s No. 2, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, and his deputy approving it. Neither was indicted. In addition, Francis himself was aware of the deal and Torzi’s involvement in it.
Vatican prosecutors have produced evidence suggesting the Vatican hierarchs were hoodwinked by Torzi and aided in part by an Italian lawyer — who was also indicted Saturday — into agreeing to the deal.
Torzi has denied the charges and said the accusations were the fruit of a misunderstanding. He is currently in London pending an extradition request by Italian authorities, who are seeking to prosecute him on related charges.
Also indicted was a onetime papal contender and Holy See official, Cardinal Angelo Becciu, who helped engineer the initial London investment when he was the chief of staff in the Secretariat of State.
Francis fired him as the Vatican’s saint-making chief last year, apparently in connection with a separate issue: his 100,000-euro donation of Holy See funds to a diocesan charity run by Becciu’s brother.
Vatican News, the in-house media portal, said Becciu had originally not been part of the London investigation but was included in May 2020 after it appeared that he was behind the proposal to buy the building. Prosecutors also accuse him of interfering in the investigation, by allegedly trying to have one of the witnesses change his story.
In a statement Saturday issued by his lawyers, Becciu insisted on the “absolute falsity” of the accusations against him and denounced what he said was “unparalleled media pillory” against him in the Italian press.
“I am the victim of a plot hatched against me and I have been waiting for a long time to know any accusations against me, to allow myself to promptly deny them and prove to the world my absolute innocence,” he said. “Only by considering this great injustice as a test of faith can I find the strength to fight this battle of truth.”
Becciu has denied wrongdoing in the London investment; he has admitted he made the donation but insisted the money was for the charity, not his brother.
One of Becciu’s proteges, Cecilia Marogna, was indicted on embezzlement charges. Becciu had hired Marogna as an external consultant after she reached out to him in 2015 with concerns about security at Vatican embassies in global hotspots. Becciu authorized hundreds of thousands of euros of Holy See funds to her to free Catholic hostages, according to WhatsApp messages reprinted by Italian media.
Her Slovenian-based holding company, which received the funds, was among the four companies also ordered to stand trial.
Marogna has said the money wired to her was compensation for legitimate security and intelligence work and reimbursements for her expenses. Vatican News, citing the indictment, say she spent the money on purchases that were incompatible with the humanitarian scope of her company.
Also indicted were the former top two officials in the Vatican’s financial watchdog agency, for alleged abuse of office. The watchdog agency had actually launched an international investigation into the London deal months before Vatican prosecutors had. But prosecutors say that by failing to stop the Torzi deal, they performed a “decisive function” in letting it play out, Vatican News said.
Other suspects didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment Saturday.
Nicole Winfield, The Associated Press
Interest rates send shivers through B.C. real estate market – Business in Vancouver
A wintry summer is brewing for B.C.’s real estate market with soaring interest rates drastically reducing buyer purchasing power while sellers clamber for yesterday’s prices. Home sales fell sharply in May while home values are declining, slowly but surely.
Multiple Listing Service (MLS) sales fell 16.3 per cent in May adding to April’s 13 per cent decline to a seasonally-adjusted 6,853 units. On an unadjusted basis, sales fell 34 per cent.
While sales remained above levels observed just prior to the pandemic and above the same-month average from 2010-19, momentum is quickly weakening. This is not surprising with fixed mortgage rates well above four per cent and at a 10-year high, while variable rates are rapidly shifting higher. With home prices up 40 per cent during the pandemic, prospective buyers face a very different market, and many have quickly been priced out of ownership. High consumer price inflation is further amplifying affordability challenges for households.
Sales declines were observed in most regions of the province. Specifically, the real estate boards of Chilliwack (-25 per cent) and the Fraser Valley (-20 per cent), which covers Abbotsford-Mission and eastern communities of Metro Vancouver, including Surrey, led the drop in sales while the rest of Metro Vancouver fell 18 per cent. Vancouver Island fell 18 percent, but remained elevated, with more modest declines in the interior and northern markets. In contrast, retiree demand and migration from Alberta continues to support conditions outside Metro Vancouver.
Declining sales are contributing to a quick moderation in market conditions. Fewer sales and steady new listings lifted active listings in the province for a fifth straight month with inventory on the rise in most markets. Sales-to-active listings ratios remain in a range consistent with a sellers’ market, but the rapid decline suggests markets are nearly balanced, with the potential to move into a buyers’ market range.
At $980,324, the average price fell 4.7 per cent from April and marked the first sub-million-dollar reading since November. Consistent with sales, declines were deepest in Chilliwack (-4.3 per cent) and the Fraser Valley (-6.7 per cent), although average prices eroded in most real estate board areas.
After an impressive run where B.C. manufacturing sales increased for seven consecutive months, the streak came to an end in April as sales dipped 2.9 per cent from March to $5.8 billion. Both durable goods (down 1.6 per cent) and non-durable goods (down 4.5 per cent) posted weaker sales.
Key manufacturing areas such as wood products (down 5.9 per cent); transportation equipment (down 5.5 per cent); computer and electronic equipment (down 3.2 per cent); and electrical equipment, appliances and components (down 5.1 per cent) weighed down overall sales. The decline was only partially offset by a few sectors showing gains, such as food manufacturing (up 1.7 per cent), fabricated metal products (up 2.3 per cent) and sales of machinery (up 3.9 per cent).
Over 2022’s first four months, total sales remained 10.1 per cent of last year’s pace with durables (up 6.7 per cent) and non-durables (up 15.1 per cent), considerably ahead of last year’s pace notwithstanding April’s dip in activity. Manufacturing sales activity dipped across the province in May. In Metro Vancouver, sales fell 1.5 per cent and were down 4.3 per cent in the rest of British Columbia.
Bryan Yu is chief economist at Central 1 Credit Union.
Simplicity launches real estate conveyancing solution in Ontario – ITBusiness.ca
Prolegis is a cloud-based real estate conveyancing solution made for real estate lawyers. It integrates with a real estate practice, providing tools and information to help each user enhance their performance, customer engagement, and work-life balance.
Prolegis is designed to help users save time, with all the capabilities and key third-party integrations needed to convey a real estate transaction. The solution provides user flexibility to configure and organize work, communicate with clients, and manage the real estate transaction end-to-end from a single solution at any time. It offers a library of document and workflow management tools, community databases, stakeholder portals, and real-time support.
‘Simplicity is incredibly pleased and excited to offer Ontario real estate lawyers and conveyancers a fresh new choice in a legal software provider. Collaborating with our valued customers and a network of trusted stakeholders, we are building a better, brighter future for real estate legal professionals and Canadian homebuyers,” said Neil N. Babiy, co-founder and chief executive officer of Simplicity Global Solutions Ltd. “At Simplicity, we envision a future where innovative technology is at the forefront of enhancing the customer experience in the real estate ecosystem. We are committed to helping advance technology utilization and adoption within the real estate sector by providing solutions that are user-friendly, easy to implement, and economical to acquire and operate.”
Ontario real estate lawyers and conveyancers can now book a demo and learn more about the tool here.
U.S. real estate giant Blackstone says it will not target single-family homes in its Canadian expansion – The Globe and Mail
Blackstone Inc. BX-N said Monday it has no interest in investing in single-family homes in Canada, laying to rest speculation the giant global asset manager would scoop up hundreds of Canadian houses and turn them into rental properties.
After Blackstone announced plans in May to establish a Canadian office in Toronto, rumours abounded that the private equity firm would unleash its firepower, gobble up homes and increase competition for individuals and families looking to buy homes. The typical home price across the country has climbed 50 per cent over the past two years and real estate investors have come under scrutiny for their role in ramping up competition and driving up prices.
But Blackstone’s head of real estate Americas, Nadeem Meghji, said that is not in the cards for the company’s Canadian expansion.
“It’s just not an area that we are focused on in Canada,” he said in a joint interview with Janice Lin, the new head of Blackstone Canada.
The New York-based company, which has US$915.5-billion in assets under management, has been accused of profiting off the 2007 U.S. housing meltdown after it bought swaths of distressed properties and then rented them out to U.S. residents.
Blackstone has said it did not own any single-family homes before the crisis and didn’t foreclose on any of the properties. It has also said many of its purchases were homes that had been sitting vacant and dragging down local property values.
Blackstone has since sold that business and owns a rent-to-own business called Home Partners of America – one of the many players in a growing single-family home rental market in the U.S.
“We don’t have a similar platform in Canada and we don’t have the intention of launching one because, from our perspective, we think there are just more interesting places to deploy capital in the Canadian market,” Mr. Meghji said.
Ms. Lin, a former Canada Pension Plan Investment Board executive, is in charge of Blackstone’s expansion in Canada. She cited the country’s favourable immigration policies and its strong population growth as two key factors that make Canada a winner for Blackstone’s capital.
Blackstone mostly owns warehouses and other industrial space in Canada, as well as a couple of office towers. It also has some investments in apartment building developments. All together, they are worth about US$14-billion, according to Blackstone, representing just a tiny fraction of the company’s global real estate portfolio.
Ms. Lin and Mr. Meghji both said the company will continue to invest in industrial and top office buildings, as well as hotels.
Blackstone has previously said it expects its growth here will be significant. Mr. Meghji would not quantify “significant” except to say he expects growth will be material and Canada could eventually command a larger share of Blackstone’s global real estate portfolio.
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