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Don Luigi Verzé: Saint or Sinner?

Don Luigi Maria Verzé

Maybe you have never heard of Don Luigi Verzé?  This would not come as a huge surprise.  Nor would you be too surprised, I’m sure, to hear that Don Luigi Verzé, a friend and fan of Silvio Berlusconi, recently passed away at the ripe old age of 91.  The official cause of death was cardiac failure, which is not uncommon for people of such an age.

What might come as something of a surprise is when you learn that Don Verzé, a priest, was under investigation in connection with a €1.5 billion debt amassed by a cutting edge hospital and university complex he founded in Milan, Italy, known as the San Raffaele.

Even more surprising is the fact that the bankruptcy of the San Raffaele caught the eyes of Italy’s police who are trying to understand just how the hospital was financed and how it managed to accumulate such a colossal debt.

Investigators, or so go news reports in Italy, suspect that Don Verzé’s world renown hospital in Milan may have been a front for the creation of slush funds and money laundering on a grand scale.  The involvement of organised crime is suspected, but this always seems to be the case in Italy and whether it is true or not remains to be seen.  Investigations into this aspect of the late Don Verzé’s activities are still on-going.

Don Verzé’s Number Two Committed Suicide

Aside from the investigations, another eye opening aspect of the San Raffaele case is that Don Verzé’s trusted number two of 35 years, one Mario Cal, committed suicide in July last 2011 while investigations into suspected fraudulent bankruptcy were in progress.   It was alleged by the Italian series Report in a documentary entitled Don Verzé, megalomane che pagava tangenti – Don Verzé, a megalomaniac who paid bribes – that Mario Cal had been frolicking in Brasil with under-age prostitutes.  Don Luigi Verzé also had connections to a hospital in Brazil, the operations of which are far from transparent.  Also in Brazil, the priest had an opulent villa with swimming pool.

Was Don Verzé Actually a Priest?

The controversy does not end there.  The late Don Luigi Verzé was a priest; through there were rumours that Don Verzé had been de-frocked; at one point excommunicated, and then re-ordained, although it appears he was ordained in 1948 and remained a priest until his recent death, despite all the stories flying around.

Don Luigi Verzé’s Not Exactly Frugal Lifestyle

Don Luigi Maria Verzé
The Late Don Luigi Maria Verzé

Although he was a man of God on a mission to help the sickly, Don Verzé appeared to have led a lifestyle more akin to that of an international businessman than that of a holy man.  He flitted between villas in Sardinia and Brazil in a €20 million private jet (which was actually worth around €8 million – another source of controversy).

The good priest spent large sums of money on certain extravagant projects too, such as adding an impressive cupola to his hospital in Milan at a cost of  a cool €60 million.

Then there was the loss-making hotel complex and villas he had built in Sardinia.

Rampant over-spending may have been one cause of the bankruptcy of the San Raffaele complex, as was the fact that the complex had not been paying its suppliers and owed them €60 million.

The Foundation

Another reason for the San Raffaele complex virtually going bust, as amply covered by Report, was that it was run as a foundation which meant its accounts were not subject to the same kind of scrutiny as those of, for example, a listed company.  Nobody really knew how much money the secretive foundation had, where it came from, or what the money was being spent on.

Report compared the finances of San Raffaele to other similar foundations and discovered that whereas these foundations were flush with cash, by comparison, the coffers of Don Verzé’s foundation were comparatively empty.

Don Verzé’s Connections

Don Verzé had close ties to the president of the Italian region of Lombardy, Roberto Formigoni, a member of a religious organisation known as Comunione e Liberazione.

The San Raffaele received many millions of tax payers’ money and some of the funding was sanctioned by Formigoni.  For services rendered to the Italian health system, the San Raffaele was fed considerable sums of public money too.  It was not only Italian institutions which helped fund Don Verzé’s enterprises.

A foundation linked to international philanthropist George Soros donated money to the San Raffaele.

Then there is the Puglia connection and more controversy.

Left-wing Italian politician Nichi Vendola has been linked to Don Verzé in connection with the construction of a major hospital complex in Puglia.  The hospital was to be public, but for the first three years of its existence would have been run by Don Verzé’s private foundation.  Nobody really understands why the public hospital would have been privately run initially.

Huge Debts

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Discounting the extravagant spending of priest-manager Don Verzé, it is unclear just how the San Raffaele managed to run up with such huge debts.  According to one individual interviewed by investigators, some of the money did end up in slush funds, though money was not used to pay off politicians.

Questions were raised in Italy’s parliament over the mafia-style management of the San Raffaele complex as far back as 1978.

Something decidedly strange was going on at the same time as the San Raffaele was gaining a reputation for medical excellence and for world leading research.

Reaction to Don Verzé’s Death

After hearing of the death of Don Verzé, I tuned into Twitter and followed the tweets concerning the priest’s departure from this earth.  The majority of comments were disparaging and it was obvious that those who were tweeting considered the man to be not much more than a common criminal.  Very few sprang to Don Verzé’s defence.

Assassination Theory

Some suspect that the good Don may have been assassinated and investigators were on the point of interrogating Don Verzé when he died.  Others are taking claims that Don Verzé’s death may have been ‘accelerated’ more seriously and his clinical records have been seized.

A Convicted Priest

Certainly, some have good grounds for being suspicious of Don Verzé’s activities.  The unconventional priest had been convicted of attempted corruption in 1976 and of abusive building practices in 1998.

Don Verzé was a friend and supporter of former property developer Silvio Berlusconi, as well as being a fan of Fidel Castro and the late Gaddafi.

To keep himself well informed on goings on in Italy, Don Verzé reputedly kept in contact with one Pio Pompa, a member of Italy’s SISMI military intelligence services.

San Raffaele – the Super Hospital – with Slush Funds?!

I have been to Milan’s San Raffaele on a couple of occasions and was impressed by its scale, the modern buildings as well as the novel mono-rail which links the hospital to a nearby metropolitan railway station.  The complex is an impressive sight.

While it cannot be denied that Don Verzé created a world class medical complex, research and teaching facility, what is hard to explain is why he should have amassed such debts and risked having the complex he founded shut down – thus putting the 3,400 people who work there on the dole as well as denying treatment to the ill.  And just what was a hospital run by a priest doing with slush funds?

Saint or Sinner?

To some, Don Verzé was a saint, to others, he was a sinner with many dark secrets.  Will the truth ever be known?  Probably not seeing as Don Verzé is no longer on this earth.  It would be interesting to know which way Don Verzé will be sent: up or down, would it not?

An all Italian mystery, if ever there was one.  Secrecy, slush funds, and a state of the art medical facility run by a jet-set priest which could turn out to be the most sophisticated large-scale money laundering activities in the world.

Sources and further reading – in Italian:

Laici Libertari Anticlericali ForumGli affari del clan di don Verzé, Spalleggiato a destra e a sinistra, da Berlusconi a Vendola a Formigoni – a list of articles on Don Verzé and his activities

Don Verzé, megalomane che pagava tangenti – transcript of Report documentary on the priest/manager

Don Verzé image by RaminusFalcon

The Don Verzé wikipedia entry

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