The strange story of the San Raffaele Research Institute, Don Verzé, the Vatican, corruption and a suicide!

This is a very strange tale of a prestigious Italian bio-medical Research Institute, a strange priest, tons of money, huge debts, corruption, a suicide, the Vatican and – of course – links to Berlusconi.

It reads like a film script and a subject worthy of a Dan Brown blockbuster.

Alison Abbott writes in Nature:

One of Italy’s most prestigious biomedical research centres now faces bankruptcy, against a backdrop of rumours fed by intrigue among power-brokers, allegations of fraud and corruption, and a violent death. Next week, a court will decide whether to leave the Milan-based San Raffaele Scientific Institute to its fate, or allow a consortium led by the Vatican Bank to rescue it.

The institute, which includes a 1,400-bed research hospital, a basic-research centre and a small university, has run up debts approaching €1.5 billion (US$2.1 billion). The debt has been attributed to poor investment decisions and overzealous expansion, and criminal investigations have begun into alleged corruption in the institute’s financial dealings. Most granting agencies have now suspended payments to the scientists there, and many companies are no longer supplying consumables. …. The charismatic figure at the centre of the story is 91-year-old Luigi Maria Verzé, the Catholic priest who founded the hospital in 1971 and formally remains chair of the San Raffaele del Monte Tabor Foundation, which runs the institute. ….. Verzé has exported his concept to 15 other countries, including the 500-bed São Rafael Hospital in Bahia, Brazil. In 2005, he began a major expansion programme at the Milan campus, constructing three large buildings for the research centre and university and for start-up companies, although scientists have yet to move into the latest of these facilities. … 

But at the end of June, the debt was revealed to be closer to €1 billion. “We began to realize the situation was serious,” says Cossu. The board of the San Raffaele del Monte Tabor Foundation was replaced and most of the executive power was transferred to its new vice-chair, Giuseppe Profiti, who is director of the Vatican’s Paediatric Hospital of the Baby Jesus in Rome.

Mario Cal con don Verzè

Luigi Maria Verzé and Mario Cal

The situation soon worsened. On 18 July, Verzé’s right-hand man, Mario Cal, shot himself in his San Raffaele office. He died on an operating table at the hospital. Since then, Italian newspapers have reported that the foundation had invested heavily, and perhaps unwisely, in real estate, energy, various hotels and even a mango plantation. ……

Read the article

But Luigi Maria Verzé is a pretty colourful and questionable character who could easily find a place in “The Da Vinci Code”. Wikipedia Italy has a separate section on just the criminal accusations, prosecutions and convictions of this larger-than-life 91 year-old priest!!

In March 1976 he was sentenced by the court of Milan for a year and four months in prison for attempted bribery in connection with the agreement with the Department of Medicine ‘ State University of Milan and the granting of a contribution of two billion Lire by the Lombardy Region.

He was also charged with aggravated fraud against Mrs. Anna Bottero to whom he has stolen an apartment worth 30 million Lire. In March 1977 Verzé was found guilty of “incitement to corruption.” However the courts could not come to a decision and he was not convicted.

Despite these events, the growth of San Rafael did not stop in the ’90s and increased its capacity to accommodate more patients, but the judiciary was aware of something wrong in the pattern of his work. In 1995 Verzé ended up again in the crosshairs of the judiciary for alleged irregularities. Three years later, the  investigation widened and deepened when, in 1999, the prosecution also turned their lens onto five professors of St. Raphael. 

In February 2011 Verzé was charged with receiving two stolen  paintings of the Neapolitan school of the ‘500. The priest was sentenced to 1 year and 4 months imprisonment. The Supreme Court rejected the appeal requests of the defense for full acquittal on the grounds that “the national court has correctly supplied a wide and substantial justification, explaining in a reasonable way that Don Verzé was aware of the illicit origin of the paintings”. 

Needless to say Don Verzé also seems to have some questionable associations with Bunga-Bunga Berlusconi! His whole financial manipulation career seems to have started with some shady real estate transactions where Berlusconi’s companies were involved. He apparently supports euthanasia and this has brought him into conflict with the Vatican!

The Vatican, lots of money, a strange priest and Berlusconi make a potent mix. When the Vatican and money get together corruption never seems to be far behind. It seems a pity that San Raffaele is involved — but then without all the intrigue and dirt perhaps San Raffaele would not even exist.

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