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From Rome to London, details of the Vatican’s property empire revealed

Prestigious addresses in Paris, London and Geneva and 3,000 properties across Rome: the Vatican has revealed more details of its real estate empire, a source of income - and scandal.

From Rome to London, details of the Vatican's property empire revealed
Photo: Andreas Solaro/AFP

Nunzio Galantino, who was brought in two years ago by Pope Francis to centralise the Vatican's assets, says he is tired of “sensationalist” stories about the riches of the papacy.

“When people say that most real estate in Rome belongs to the Catholic Church and the Vatican, it's simply not true,” the bishop, who heads the Administration of the Patrimony of the Apostolic See (APSA), told AFP.

Yet the extent of the properties held by the Vatican are still eye-watering, while the management of one particular London development sparked a major scandal in the heart of the Catholic Church.

A century of investments

The investments date back to 1929, when the Vatican City State was founded as an independent territory in a deal with Italy that included compensation for lands seized from the former Papal States.

Among the church assets taken was the huge Quirinale palace, once home to 30 popes but now the residency of the Italian president.

Then pope Pius XI decided to use the money to invest in property, including abroad, “to ensure the freedom and independence of the Church”, Galantino said.

APSA has for years managed 737 properties in the heart of Paris, around the boulevard Saint-Michel, Odeon or the Champs-Elysees, covering almost 56,000 square metres and worth an estimated 595.5 million euros. 

In London, it has 27 properties – among them addresses in St James's Square, Kensington and New Bond Street, covering some 4,600 square metres and worth about 108.5 million euros.

Meanwhile in Switzerland, notably in Geneva and Lausanne, the Church has 140 properties covering 16,000 square metres and worth more than 91 million euros.

Priceless Italian assets

Back in Rome, the Vatican constructed entire buildings, notably on two main streets converging on St Peter's Square, including the famous Via della Conciliazione.

Today, APSA also directly manages the rental of 2,400 apartments and 600 offices and shops in Italy, which brought in 99 million euros in 2019.

Some 15 percent are let on the open market, 30 percent at subsidised rates, notably to staff and pensioners, and the rest are occupied by Vatican institutions or loaned out for free to schools or universities.

Image: Daniel Leal-Olivas / AFP

One of Galantino's goals is to improve “the performance” of the Vatican's property assets, noting that some apartments are empty and others dilapidated after years of use.

But he insists that far from being mercantile, the Holy See recently allotted a property for the pope's charity work, noting that one sumptuous building on one of Rome's most sought-after hills is used for training for the clergy.

Galantino says it is hard to put a value on the Vatican's Italian holdings, not least because buildings such as St Peter's Basilica are priceless, but it is likely to stretch to several billion euros just for the properties on the rental market.

In addition there are hundreds of apartments managed by a ministry overseeing the Church's missionary activities, bringing in another three to four billion euros, according to economic daily Il Sole 24 Ore.

APSA is still drawing up an inventory of its Italian holdings, which Galantino hopes to complete by spring.


Dodgy deals

Pope Francis has also recently brought under the control of APSA the London properties acquired by the powerful Secretariat of State – the central administration of the Vatican – in circuitous deals through Italian intermediaries.

They notably include 60 Sloane Avenue, in the heart of London's exclusive Chelsea district, bought in two stages from 2014.

An Italian financier who acted as a Vatican intermediary in the deal was arrested last year on corruption charges, although subsequently released.

The previous year, Vatican police launched an extraordinary raid on the Secretariat of State's offices.

And last year, a senior official in charge at the time of the deal, Cardinal Angelo Becciu, was abruptly fired.

The Church was also embarrassed after the Malta-based investment fund that manages another of its London property portfolios, comprising five luxury apartments, used the proceeds to invest in a film about gay music star Elton John, 'Rocketman'.

The pope has said he wants to withdraw from these investments as quickly as possible, to minimise any risk to the Church's reputation.

Property scandals are nothing new. Last month, the Vatican courts sentenced a former head of the Vatican Bank, the IOR, to nine years in prison for embezzlement and money laundering relating to corrupt real estate deals.

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MONEY

How to get a discount on the cost of solar panels for your Italian property

Solar panels are an understandably popular choice in Italy, and if you're thinking of installing them on your own home there's funding available to help lower the cost. Here's what you need to know.

How to get a discount on the cost of solar panels for your Italian property

As utility bills rise, more home and business owners in Italy are looking at installing solar panels as a possible way to reduce costs in the long term.

Solar panels are already hugely popular in Italy, with the nation ranking top worldwide for solar-powered electricity consumption.

READ ALSO: Who can claim a discount on energy bills in Italy?

And no wonder: it’s a solid bet in a country where there is sunshine in abundance. But what about the costs of installation?

The good news is that there’s financial help available from Italy’s national government aimed at encouraging uptake of solar energy, as well as other incentives from regional authorities in many parts of the country.

It’s in the government’s interest to incentivise solar power, as Italy has vowed to transition to greener energy with its National Integrated Plan for Energy and Climate (Piano Nazionale Integrato per l’Energia e il Clima 2030 or PNIEC).

So how could this benefit you? Here’s a look at what you can claim at both a national and a regional level.

Regional funding for installing solar panels

As well as the national government subsidies available for covering the cost of solar panel installation, some regions have introduced their own bonuses or discount schemes.

The sunny southern region of Puglia and the wealthy northern region of Lombardy have seen the highest number of residential photovoltaic systems installed, according to market research.

it’s not surprising, then, that these two regions’ governments are offering cash incentives to help cover the cost of installing solar panels.

Depending on the type of system you opt for, you could expect to pay between around €5,000 and €13,000 for installation, design, labour and paperwork.

To contribute to this initial outlay, the local authority in Puglia has created a pot to help homeowners on lower incomes move towards renewable energy.

READ ALSO: What you need to know about installing solar panels on your home in Italy

Newly introduced in 2022, the so-called Reddito energetico (energy income) offers households with an annual income below €20,000 a bonus of up to €8,500 for installing photovoltaic, solar thermal or micro-wind systems in their homes.

The bonus is intended for residents who have citizenship of an EU country or, if you are a citizen of a non-EU country, you can still claim the bonus if you have been resident for at least one year in a municipality in Puglia.

The €20,000 annual income refers to a household’s ISEE – an indicator of household wealth calculated based on earnings and other factors.

A worker fixes solar panels. (Photo by Ina FASSBENDER / AFP)

For this particular scheme, if you claim this bonus from the authorities in Puglia, it precludes you from also claiming funds at national level concurrently – such as through the popular superbonus 110 home renovation fund (see below for more on this).

Although there are other government bonuses, such as the renovation bonus (bonus ristrutturazione) that offers a much higher maximum total expenditure of €96,000, it can only be claimed as a 50 percent tax deduction spread over 10 years in your tax return.

For lower income families in Puglia, this may not be as cost effective as the grant from the regional authorities, which may equate to more money towards the cost and supply of solar panels.

For more information and to apply for Puglia’s renewable energy bonus, see here.

Lombardy is also stumping up funds to continue the solar power momentum experienced in the region.

While the coffers for private properties are currently closed, the region has made funds available for those with small and medium-sized businesses – again, in a move designed to lessen the impact of rising energy costs.

Business owners can claim a 30 percent grant for the installation of solar panels. There are more funds available to cover the cost of consultancy during the process too.

For more details on applying for this energy bonus in Lombardy, see here.

Other regions have also taken the initiative with encouraging more homes and businesses to change to solar-powered energy.

The region of Tuscany is offering an incentive on installing solar panels to residents in the form of tax deductions spread out over several years.

Works permitted include installing winter and summer air conditioning and hot water systems using renewable sources. This covers heat pumps, solar panels or high-efficiency biomass boilers.

For further details and information on how to apply, see here.

Each region may have its own solar panel bonus, either in the form of grants or tax deductions, available to private residents and/or businesses.

Check your regional government’s website to find out what may be currently on offer.

Solar panels are an increasingly popular option for those renovating homes in Italy. Photo by Jeremy Bezanger on Unsplash

National subsidies for installing solar panels

If your region isn’t offering any cash incentive to install solar panels on your property, there are government funds available, which cover all 20 regions.

The authorities introduced and extended a package of building bonuses in order to galvanise the construction industry following the economic downturn caused by the pandemic.

While there is no single, separate package of incentives for installing solar panels in 2022, you can take advantage of other government bonuses that include the cost of solar panel installation and supply.

As noted, you could use the renovation bonus (bonus ristrutturazione), which amounts to a 50 percent tax deduction spread over 10 years in your tax return – or through the superbonus 110, a scheme that promises homeowners a tax deduction of up to 110% on expenses related to property renovation and making energy efficiency measures.

READ ALSO:

The property must make at least a double jump in energy class or reach the highest efficiency rating when accessing these bonuses.

There’s a substantial amount of funds on offer to install your solar panels.

Using the renovation bonus, there is a maximum total expenditure of €96,000 (per single housing, including condominiums). Remember this amounts to a 50 percent tax deduction, so the maximum saving you would make is €48,000.

The renovation bonus has been extended until 2024 and, where solar panel installation is concerned, you can claim for the costs of labour, design, surveys and inspections, as well as VAT and stamp duty.

You must tell Italy’s energy and technology authority, ENEA, that you’ve done the works within 90 days in order to access the state aid for solar panel installation.

If you choose to use the superbonus route to claim funds for your solar panels, however, you can spread out the tax deduction costs over five years. Alternatively, you can apply for it as a discount on the invoice (sconto in fattura) or through the transfer of credit (cessione del credito).

The limit when using this bonus is €48,000, which can now be accessed for a while longer as the government extended the deadline for single family homes.

See HERE for details on how to claim it.

See more in The Local’s Italian property section.

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