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World News

High-ranking Vatican cardinal resigns following controversial London property deal

by Will Maule

A senior Vatican official has tendered his resignation and becoming involved in a controversial deal to buy a luxury London property with church funds. Cardinal Giovanni Angelo Becciu was once the second-most senior figure in the Vatican's Secretariat of State.

The Holy See said in a brief statement that the Pope had accepted Becciu's resignation, noting too that he had “given up the rights associated with being a cardinal”.

During his time as deputy secretary of state, Becciu was involved in a deal which the Secretariat of State used church funds to buy a £155m apartment block in Sloane Avenue, London. It was intended as an investment, but eyebrows were raised when financial records revealed that the Church funding had come through offshore funds and companies.

Becciu defended the sizeable property purchase, saying in February: "An investment was made on a building. It was a good and opportune occasion, which many people envy us for today." 

The Institute for Religious Works, commonly known as the Vatican Bank, had identified suspicious activity at the Secretariat of State relating to financial operations overseen by Becciu. That investigation led to a raid on the offices of the Secretariat, which resulted in five members of staff being suspended. In June, Vatican police then arrested businessman Gianluigi Torzi on suspicion of extortion and embezzlement. 

It is unclear whether Becciu's resignation is a direct result of the financial dealings. Italian media have also reported that the Pope had grown unhappy in recent times with the utilising of donations to the Holy See, known as 'Peter's Pence, for other investments - last year, Italian paper L'Espresso published a report from the Vatican's anti-corruption authority which alleged that the investments totalled around $725m.

After serving as deputy secretary of state, Becciu had gone on to be the head of the department that chooses future saints. Now, with his position stripped, he will not even be involved in choosing the next pope. 

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