German Newspaper Investigates Mysterious Trust Connected to Order of Malta

‘Bild’ sheds light on a multi-million dollar donation seen to be at the center of the Order’s recent dispute with the Holy See.

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Germany’s mass-selling Bild newspaper has reported that the Grand Chancellor of the Order of Malta, Baron Albrecht Freiherr von Boeselager, accepted a 30 million Swiss franc donation ($31 million) on behalf of the Order from what Bild calls “a dubious trust” in Geneva. Boeselager denies any wrongdoing.

The Grand Chancellor told the newspaper that over a seven-year period, the Order would be drawing 30 million Swiss francs from the fund, which Bild calls by its acronym CPVG. So far, the Order has received 3 million francs from the trust, whose existence the Register first brought to public attention in January.

Bild correspondent Nikolaus Harbusch, a well known investigative reporter in Germany specializing in financial crimes, reports that the trustee, whom the newspaper names simply as Ariane S., signed a framework agreement with Boeselager to accept the money on March 1. The agreement came just weeks after Boeselager was reinstated as Grand Chancellor following his dismissal in December by the Order’s former Grand Master Fra’ Matthew Festing.

Ariane S., who also appears in the so-called "Panama Papers”, denied in a Jan. 6 email to the Register that she or her organization had any connection to the Order of Malta. In her correspondence with the Register, she referenced Swiss law and criminal penalties if the name of the trust or its members, or allegations about the trust, were published.

Boeselager and other members of the Order have had dealings with the trust since 2010, according to documentation obtained by the Register, but Fra’ Festing was unaware of its existence until only recently, after asking Boeselager directly about it.

The Grand Chancellor told Bild he had had lawyers check that the trust, which is now registered in New Zealand, was clean, and subsequently  the Order's government unanimously approved of the fund. He said he did not know details about the donor, Mr. Latour — only that the money came from a wealthy French family, and that the funds had been put into a foundation before the Second World War. “Since then there has been only investment, that's all that I know," he said.

"We really do not know the details because our donor is the CPVG trust and not ‘Mr. Latour’ personally,” Boeselager said — adding that the donor, so far only known as Mr. Latour, had “demanded anonymity from the trust and we had to accept that.”

Asked by Bild if it could be dirty money, Boeselager said: “To the best of our knowledge, no.”

According to the donor’s wishes, the Order of Malta was due to receive a quarter of the trust’s assets out of a total fund amounting to 120 million Swiss francs.

Bild revealed that, on the instruction of the Order, the public prosecutor in Geneva had put a freeze on the money in order to determine whether the trustee was guilty of embezzlement. The newspaper’s own investigations, using its own experts, leads them to believe that the assets in France had never been taxed properly.

Boeselager told Bild that the Order has withdrawn its “complaint against the trustee, since the accusation was baseless and no one suffered any harm.” He said the 30 million francs was by far the largest cash donation the Order has received over the past 10 years.

According to Boeselager, the Order has a policy for rejecting “dirty money,” and said it has turned down two donations from Switzerland, and one from the United States. “If money is dirty, we will not take it,” he said.

He said that, in the case of the CPVG trust, the Order carried out a “thorough risk analysis” and sees “no reason to place the order on a money laundering list. "

In the interview, Boeselager rejected the accusation that he wants to turn the Order into a normal non-governmental organization, saying anyone who makes such a charge doesn’t “know me at all” and that “the opposite is true.”

“We are continuing with our mission: evangelization through assistance and charity,” he said.

Boeselager also revealed he would be reducing the autonomy of the Grand Master, who will be “bound in the future to the decisions of the government of the Order.” His comment contrasts with the view of Fra’ Festing, who had privately complained that Boeselager had been pursuing his own policies and activities in the Order independently, without the Grand Master’s full knowledge.

Many questions, however,  remain unanswered, including:

  • why the five-member Holy See commission set up to look into Boeselager’s dismissal was made up of three individuals closely associated with the trust, none of whom wished to speak publicly about it;
  • why the commission’s work was rushed and completed ahead of schedule, but in time for Boeselager to be reinstated and to withdraw the complaint against the trustee;
  • what the precise reasons were for Boeselager’s brother, Georg, being appointed to the board of the Vatican Bank in December;
  • and why the trustee was so threatening and reluctant to have any basic information related to the CPVG trust published, including its name.  

 

Dispute between the Holy See and the Order

The dispute between the Order of Malta and the Vatican began late last year when Fra’ Festing dismissed Grand Chancellor Albrecht Freiherr von Boeselager, the Order’s third most senior leader.

Boeselager was asked to resign and, when he twice refused, was dismissed on grounds of insubordination.

The primary issue behind the call for Boeselager’s resignation was that he was deemed ultimately responsible, following the Order’s own internal commission of inquiry, for allowing contraceptives to be distributed by the Knights’ humanitarian arm. The Order also said there had been other “confidential” factors in play, as well as a “failure of trust.”

Boeselager protested the charges and argued against the manner of his dismissal. He called for his case to be heard by a tribunal of the Order and appealed to the Pope, who then appointed a five-member commission to look into the unusual circumstances of his sacking.

Fra’ Festing refused to cooperate, saying the commission was interfering in the Order’s sovereignty and right to govern its own internal affairs.

On Jan. 10 the Knights again defended their decision to dismiss Boeselager, calling it “an internal act of governance”. The Order added that the Holy See commission, which is mandated to complete its work on Jan. 31, was “legally irrelevant” given the Order’s sovereignty.

The Holy See, in turn, reiterated on Jan. 17 its confidence in its commission of inquiry and indicated it was awaiting its report “in order to adopt, within its area of competence, the most fitting decisions for the good of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta and of the Church.”

The Grand Master resigned Jan. 24. The following day Pope Francis declared all actions taken by Fra’ Festing and its governing council after Boeselager’s dismissal “null and void.” The Order’s governing council voted to accept Fra’ Festing’s resignation on Jan. 28, and the Pope subsequently appointed a special delegate, Archbishop Giovanni Becciu, to represent the Holy See to the Order.