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Retired prelate arrested over €30mln fraud

Retired prelate arrested over €30mln fraud

Police in northern Italy on Wednesday said they arrested Argentinian-born Monsignor Patrizio Benvenuti for allegedly swindling investors out of 30 million euros they believed would help fund a charity.

Benvenuti was reportedly arrested in Genoa on his way to the Canary Islands, where he retired to.

A international arrest warrant has also been issued for one of Benvenuti's alleged close collaborators, a 54-year-old French businessman involved in finance and property named as Christian Ventisette.

Benvenuti and nine suspected accomplices tricked almost 300 mostly elderly people out of their life savings in a Ponzi-type scheme, which the victims were told would help fund the Italian humanitarian foundation Kepha, finance police said.

The money was allegedly laundered through individuals and companies in Italy and overseas. The suspected fraud was exposed by a former nun who was Benvenuti's housekeeper in Rome and who contacted tax police after discovering large sums moving through her bank accounts.

Benvenuti won the confidence of investors though his work at the Vatican's ecclesiastical court according to investigators in the town of Bolzano, in the South Tyrol, where the nun who used to work for him now lives.

Italian police have since seized an eight million euro Renaissance villa in Piombino, facing the island of Elba on Italy’s Tuscan coast, owned by the Kepha foundation, where Benvenuti regularly stayed.

Police also impounded an 850,000 euro archaeological site in Sicily belonging to Ventisette and other property in Lazio and Tuscany. The international warrant also calls for the seizure of a magnificent villa on the French island of Corsica.