Vatican to sell property trapped in scandal to private equity firms
The Vatican is close to a deal with two private equity firms to sell a commercial building in London at the center of one of the main scandals of Pope Francis’ reign.
An investment arm controlled by Bain Capital and London real estate investor CIT Group Partners are in talks to buy 60 Sloane Avenue in the Vatican for nearly £ 200million, or around $ 270million, according to people familiar with the matter. . The deal could be announced in the coming weeks, assuming talks fail.
That sale price would mean a loss of more than $ 100 million on the Vatican’s total investment in the commercial building, a former Harrod’s auto showroom in wealthy London’s Chelsea.
The Sloane Avenue investment shook the Vatican and led to the downfall of powerful Cardinal Angelo Becciu, who is currently on trial at the Vatican on charges of embezzlement and other alleged crimes, along with nine other defendants.
Vatican prosecutors said Cardinal Becciu, who denied wrongdoing, approved the first in a series of complex deals whereby the Vatican acquired ownership of Chelsea and then sought to thwart their investigation on the case.
A lawyer for Cardinal Becciu did not immediately return a request for comment.
Prosecutors said the Vatican’s executive branch, the Secretariat of State, ended up paying more than the equivalent of $ 400 million to acquire the London property, than another defendant, Italian financier Raffaele Mincione, had acquired half of that amount six years earlier.
Mincione, who has been accused by Vatican prosecutors of fraud, embezzlement, money laundering and other crimes, has denied any wrongdoing. His lawyers said the increase in the property’s value was verified by third-party consultants.
In October, Vatican judges said the 10 defendants were denied their right to fully respond to charges during the investigation. Judges suspended the trial and ordered prosecutors to question Mincione and three other defendants on all counts. Mincione’s lawyers say this means the charges against him are currently being quashed.
The judges also ordered prosecutors to turn over the recorded testimony of a key witness who the judges said they had improperly withheld. Defense lawyers complained last week that the material handed over was incomplete. The trial is expected to resume later this month.
Last year, Pope Francis asked Cardinal Becciu to relinquish all rights of a cardinal, without giving any public explanation. The Pope also ordered that all assets of the Secretariat of State be transferred to the Vatican Treasury, undermining what has traditionally been seen as the most powerful office in the Vatican.
Much of the secretariat’s assets came from an annual Catholic fundraiser known as Peter’s Pence, long advertised to donors as intended for charity, but also available for the pope’s ministry.
Commercial publication Estates Gazette reported last month that a Bain and CIT joint venture had become the frontrunner among several bids for the property.
Bain Capital is a global alternative asset manager with approximately $ 150 billion in assets under management. The company purchases the Sloane Avenue property through Bain Capital Credit, its lending subsidiary, which invests in leveraged loans, high yield bonds and other lending strategies. The credit activity also has significant real estate assets.
The buyers plan to renovate the building and add additional floors, according to a person familiar with the matter. The purchase would come as investors bet that opening London to the pandemic would lead to a rebound in business activity.
In February, Bain partnered with CIT to acquire the Grosvenor Gardens House building in Belgravia, an affluent area of central London.
Last month, Bain formed a joint venture with Omnam Group, a London-based real estate investment company, to acquire the Britannia Excelsior Hotel, an upscale hotel in Italy’s Lake Como district. Bain Capital has more than 35 hotels in Italy and more than 115 hotels across Europe, according to the Bain website.
London-based CIT, which is unrelated to US financial services firm CIT Group Inc., oversees more than £ 2 billion in assets. It invests in commercial and residential properties in the UK and mainland Europe, according to its website.
From Dow Jones Newswires