Knights of Malta. The Mystery of Those 30 Million Swiss Francs
The saga of the Knights of Malta has been expanded with a new chapter, staged by the Grand Chancellor of the order, the German baron Albrecht Freiherr von Boeselager, in an interview in the widely read German newspaper “Bild” on March 16.
In the interview, conducted by Nikolaus Harbusch, a well-known journalist who specializes in financial crimes, the Grand Chancellor conformed that at the beginning of this month the order received the first installments of a donation of 30 million Swiss francs, after verifying the correct provenance of the sum and the reliability of the person with whom on March 1 it signed the transfer agreement, identified by the “Bild” as Ariane S. and a fiduciary of the CPVG trust in Geneva, registered in New Zealand, which is the trustee of the money.
According to the investigations of the “Bild,” however, the trail of this endowment still has its obscure points. And the order of Malta itself had initially reported the fiduciary of the CPVG trust to the Geneva courts for embezzlement, an accusation that was withdrawn shortly before the framework agreement lat March 1.
The following is Boeselager’s complete interview with the “Bild.” Immediately followed by a few notes on the questions that it raises.
Q: Mr von Boeselager, on March 1st you concluded an important agreement for the Order of Malta.
A: We concluded a framework agreement with the trustee of the New Zealand Trust CPVG from Geneva, concerning the acceptance of a large donation.
Q: What was the donation amount?
A: The donation amounts to 30 million Swiss francs over a period of 7 years. 3 million of which have already been paid.
Q: Have you taken this decision alone?
A: The acceptance of this money was reviewed by lawyers and, subsequently, the decision was taken unanimously by the government of the Order.
Q: Who is this "Mr Latour”, who allegedly is the source of this legendary 120 million euro inheritance?
A: I do not know the donor. He comes from a rich French family. The money was placed into a trust before World War II. Since then, there have been only investment. That is all I know.
Q: Do you know Mr Latour’s first name and date of birth?
A: We really don’t know these details. This is due to the fact our donor is the CPVG Trust, not "Mr Latour” personally. "Mr Latour” requested anonymity and we had to accept that. This is common.
Q: Is this money black money?
A: To the best of our knowledge, no. According to a so-called wish list of the donor, the Order of Malta was supposed to receive a quarter of the trust capital.
Q: The public prosecutor in Geneva has currently frozen the money and is carrying out an investigation against the trustee for embezzlement. And carrying out an investigation of allegations. According to Bild information experts assume that the money was never subject to proper taxation in France.
A: The public prosecutor asked us to settle with the Trust in order to close the case. We withdrew our charges against the trustee as the allegation was unfounded and no damage was caused. But generally: 30 million is by far the biggest cash donation received in the last 10 years. But one thing remains clear. If money is dirty, we will not take it. I remember two donations from Switzerland and the USA which we had to decline.
Q: You will go down in the proud history of your military order as the "dirty money baron…".
A: In the CPVG case, we have carried out a very diligent risk analysis. Therefore, I do not see a reason to put the Order on a "money launder list” and paint the order to be something it is not.
Q: Critics say that you want to transform your Catholic military Order into a normal NGO?
A: They clearly don’t know me at all. In fact, the opposite is true. We are continuing with our mission: evangelization through assistance and charity.
Q: How do you plan to avoid future conflicts like the case concerning the replaced Grand Master Festing?
A: You can never avoid human conflict. We have to limit the autonomy of the Grand Master in the coming reform of the Order. In the future, he should have to be bound to the decisions of the Order’s government.
Already this last statement by Boeselager is astonishing, considering what came before it. Because it is true that the Grand Master at the time, Matthew Festing, in removing Boeselager last December 6 made use of his power without the prior approval (not obligatory) of the whole government of the order, but it is also true that Boeselager, first as Grand Grand Hospitaller and then as Grand Chancellor, often acted without informing the Grand Master, contrary to the rules, and this was one of the very reasons for the rupture between the two.
Moreover, one of the matters on which the Grand Master was kept in the dark was precisely the existence of those 30 million Swiss francs kept by the CPVG in Geneva. When he found out about it, the Grand Master set up an internal commission to investigate that trust with its unclear delineations but with definite ties to Boeselager and three other leading representatives of the order of Malta: Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, former observer of the Holy See at the United Nations in Geneva; Marc Odendall, a Franco-German financier; and Marwhn Sehnaoui, president of the order in Lebanon.
The investigation of the commission set up by Grand Master Festing led the order of Malta to report the fiduciary of the CPVG trust to the judiciary in Geneva on the suspicion of embezzlement, with the result that the sum held by the trust was frozen by a court order.
But in spite of this, after Boeselager was removed by the Grand Master and after his immediate appeal to the pope for a return to his functions, the commission that Francis set up on December 22 to patch up the squabble was made up of none other than Tomasi, Odendall, and Sehnaoui, in addition to the Belgian lawyer Jacques de Liedekerke and the Jesuit canonist Gianfranco Ghirlanda. Apart from this last, these are persons closely connected to Boeselager and above all personally involved in the “affair” of the Geneva trust.
Without counting the contemporaneous appointment as a member of the board of the IOR, the Vatican “bank,” of Boeselager’s brother, Georg Freiherr.
Grand Master Festing protested over this clear “conflict of interest” in at least three members of the commission. But in vain. The commission set up by the pope completed its investigations in record time and delivered its final report even before the deadline set at the end of January.
With consequences that were apparent immediately: the forced resignation of Festing handed over to Francis; the nullification of all his decisions from December 6 onward; Boeselager’s reinstatement as Grand Chancellor; the appointment of a “special delegate” of the pope “for the spiritual and moral renewal of the order,” in the person of substitute secretary of state Angelo Becciu.
But also with results that Boeselager revealed after the fact, in the interview with the “Bild”: the withdrawal of the accusation against the fiduciary of the CPVG trust in Geneva, the signing of the framework agreement and the depositing of the first 3 million of the donation.
There remains the mystery of this fiduciary with whom the Grand Chancellor of the Knights of Malta signed the pact.
Approached in January by the “National Catholic Register,” the woman whom the “Bild” calls “Ariane S.” responded by threatening to sue at the mere publication of the names of the members of the trust of which she is the fiduciary, as also of the documents concerning it.