Priest takes his secrets – and Berlusconi's confessions – to the grave

Don Luigi Verze spared fraud probe over £1.2bn black hole in hospital's accounts

Milan

In March 2010, on his 90th birthday, the priest, tycoon and hospital director Don Luigi Verze announced, in the presence of his old friend Silvio Berlusconi, the launch of a new biomedical research programme that would see people live to the age of 120.

But Mr Verze himself will not be benefiting from the Quo Vadis project. The 91-year-old was struck down by a heart attack on Saturday, the eve of a year in which he would have had to explain how a €1.5bn (£1.2bn) black hole developed in the accounts of Milan's San Raffaele teaching hospital, the prestigious institution he had spent four decades building.

Italy's financial police continue to scour files and documents from the hospital over fraud allegations, an overseas slush funds and a suicide, while attempts to save the hospital and research centre continue.

Few doubt that many of Mr Verze's secrets – and those of the rich and powerful he knew intimately, such as Mr Berlusconi – will follow him to the grave. But it's not just details of the alleged corruption seeping out from the San Raffaele's accounts that continue to fascinate, but the personality of Mr Verze himself and what he represented.

Having built up the high-profile medical centre on land he bought in the 1970s (Mr Berlusconi was doing the same thing in this period and met Mr Verze this way) his prominent role in Milan society was assured. Like Mr Berlusconi, the would-be priest and philanthropist would be go on to face several charges of corruption in the courts, without being convicted.

As news of his death emerged at the weekend, Guido Podesta, the President of the Province of Milan, led the tributes. "I learned of Don Verze's death with the poignant pain felt by all who knew him and respected him," he said. "Even recently, despite the difficulties of his creation, the hospital San Raffaele, he won admiration and affection for his generous efforts to support medicine, research and excellence, which help ease suffering through science."

But it seems that the jet-setting priest was equally in love with luxury and power; how else, critics ask, do you explain his close friendships with Mr Berlusconi and disgraced former premier Bettino Craxi or his admiration for Muammar Gaddafi and Fidel Castro?

And in Italy, the Church is about power. The Holy See is based in Rome, but much of its money – and strength – is in Milan, Italy's financial capital.

One expression of this influence is the activity of Communion and Liberation, the ultra-conservative lay organisation that has consistently backed Mr Berlusconi and has key supporters in Italy's richest area, Milan/Lombardy, with the region's President, Roberto Formigoni, among them. Its political influence allows the pursuit of a right-wing social agenda on topics including stem-cell research and assisted dying.

Many think Mr Verze also illustrated the church's desire for power. "He was a symbol of the unacceptable face of the Catholic Church in Italy – grabbing power, influence and business at every opportunity," Professor James Walston, who teaches political science at the American University in Rome, said. "He might have liked to consider himself a philanthropist, but he wasn't. Philanthropists have large amounts of money – and give much of it away. Don Verze was no Bill Gates."

La Repubblica newspaper described him as a man caught between "faith and science; charity and megalomania". It all started to go seriously wrong for Mr Verze last February, when news broke of the gaping chasm in the San Raffaele's balance sheet. In June the Vatican stepped in with plans for a €250m rescue. A month later, Mr Verze's right-hand man at San Raffaele, Mario Cal, committed suicide as the scandal snowballed.

In an unrelated incident, a friend of Mr Berlusconi's on trial for allegedly recruiting prostitutes for the Prime Minister's "bunga bunga" parties, attempted to commit suicide in his cell, it was reported yesterday. Dario Mora was thwarted by prison guards as he tried to asphyxiate himself.

In November, finance police raided the offices at San Raffaele as part of magistrates' fraudulent bankruptcy probe, amid claims that senior managers had siphoned off huge sums to overseas slush funds. Next came reports of kickbacks for local politicians and suggestions that Mr Verze had been planning to buy a second private jet.

At Mr Verze's 90th birthday, Mr Berlusconi said of his old friend: "He gives me absolution without even hearing my sins because he already knows them. I hope Don Luigi rests in eternity because if there is a person that deserves it, he does."

Whether someone believes Mr Berlusconi's wish has been granted depends on a person's view of Mr Verze. Corriere della Sera said it was not clear whether he was a "Saint or Devil". But perhaps in Italy it's possible to be both.

News
A cleaner prepares the red carpet for the opening night during the 59th International Cannes Film Festival May 17, 2006 in Cannes, France.
newsPowerful vacuum cleaners to be banned under EU regulations
Arts and Entertainment
Loaded weapon: drugs have surprise side effects for Scarlett Johansson in Luc Besson’s ‘Lucy’
filmReview: Lucy, Luc Besson's complex thriller
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson has rejected criticisms of his language, according to BBC director of television Danny Cohen
tv
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
News
A polar bear’s diet is rich in seal blubber and half of its own body weight is composed of fat
i100
Life and Style
fashion David Beckham fronts adverts for his underwear collection
Travel
Flocking round: Beyoncé, Madame Tussauds' latest waxwork, looking fierce in the park
travelIn a digital age when we have more access than ever to the stars, why are waxworks still pulling in crowds?
Extras
indybest
Arts and Entertainment
Judi Dench appeared at the Hay Festival to perform excerpts from Shakespearean plays
tvJudi Dench and Hugh Bonneville join Benedict Cumberbatch in BBC Shakespeare adaptations
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Sport
Is this how Mario Balotelli will cruise into Liverpool?
football
News
Ronahi Serhat, a PKK fighter, in the Qandil Mountains in Iraqi Kurdistan
i100
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Junior Quant Analyst - C++, Boost, Data Mining

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Junior Quant Analyst - C++, Boost...

Service Desk Analyst- (Desktop Support, Help desk)

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Service Desk Analyst- (Desktop Su...

Junior Quant Analyst (Machine Learning, SQL, Brokerage)

£30000 - £50000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Junior Quant Analyst (Machine Lea...

UNIX Application Support Analyst- Support, UNIX, London

£45000 - £55000 per annum: Harrington Starr: UNIX Application Support Analyst-...

Day In a Page

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

The President came the nearest he has come yet to rivalling George W Bush’s gormless reaction to 9/11 , says Robert Fisk
Ebola outbreak: Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on the virus

Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on Ebola

A Christian charity’s efforts to save missionaries trapped in Africa by the crisis have been justifiably praised. But doubts remain about its evangelical motives
Jeremy Clarkson 'does not see a problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC

Not even Jeremy Clarkson is bigger than the BBC, says TV boss

Corporation’s head of television confirms ‘Top Gear’ host was warned about racist language
Nick Clegg the movie: Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise

Nick Clegg the movie

Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise
Philip Larkin: Misogynist, racist, miserable? Or caring, playful man who lived for others?

Philip Larkin: What will survive of him?

Larkin's reputation has taken a knocking. But a new book by James Booth argues that the poet was affectionate, witty, entertaining and kind, as hitherto unseen letters, sketches and 'selfies' reveal
Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?

Waxing lyrical

Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?
Texas forensic astronomer finally pinpoints the exact birth of impressionism

Revealed (to the minute)

The precise time when impressionism was born
From slow-roasted to sugar-cured: how to make the most of the British tomato season

Make the most of British tomatoes

The British crop is at its tastiest and most abundant. Sudi Pigott shares her favourite recipes
10 best men's skincare products

Face it: 10 best men's skincare products

Oscar Quine cleanses, tones and moisturises to find skin-savers blokes will be proud to display on the bathroom shelf
Malky Mackay allegations: Malky Mackay, Iain Moody and another grim day for English football

Mackay, Moody and another grim day for English football

The latest shocking claims do nothing to dispel the image that some in the game on these shores exist in a time warp, laments Sam Wallace
La Liga analysis: Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Pete Jenson starts his preview of the Spanish season, which begins on Saturday, by explaining how Fifa’s transfer ban will affect the Catalans
Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape