Italians arrest Argentine prelate in swindle scheme

AP News
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Posted: Feb 10, 2016 1:52 PM

ROME (AP) — An Argentine monsignor suspected of being behind a Ponzi scheme swindling investors out of 30 million euros ($34 million) has been put under house arrest in Genoa, Italian financial police said Wednesday.

Monsignor Patrizio Benvenuti boasted of Vatican connections and held dinners in a prestigious Rome palazzo as part of a technique to persuade nearly 300 people, many of them elderly, to put their money in an investment fund as well as to donate to a charitable foundation, said Police Capt. Alessandra Faietti, based in the northern city of Bolzano.

Most of those swindled were French or Belgian citizens, Italian authorities said.

Faietti said the probe began after a nun who had been Benvenuti's housekeeper in Rome for many years contacted tax police when she started receiving at her home bank and other documents referring to a trust that had been set up in her name. Police said the nun was startled and puzzled to see hundreds of thousands of euros moving through financial instruments linked to her name.

An international arrest warrant has been issued for a French financier who allegedly worked closely with Benvenuti, the police said. The two men are under investigation on suspicion of fraud, money laundering and tax evasion, authorities said.

Seven other people are also under investigation.

Police seized property, bank accounts and other items worth a total of 10 million euros ($11 million). Among the seized properties was a luxurious 15th-century villa on the Tuscan coast near Piombino where Benvenuti would stay, Faietti said.

Tax police said at the beginning investors did receive some interest payments, as commonly happens in Ponzi schemes, but later the payments stopped coming and they couldn't get their investment back.

Faietti said investigations showed that Benvenuti had established official residence in the Canary Islands and investigators believed he intended to move there soon.