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Catholic movement denies using offshore tax haven

Italian newspaper probes Focolare

Catholic movement denies using offshore tax haven
Chiara Lubich, founder of the Focolare movement (picture: Wikimedia Commons)
Alessandro Speciale, Vatican City
Vatican City

April 19, 2013

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The Focolare movement, a Catholic organization with a strong presence in Asia, has denied that it has set up a trust in a Pacific tax haven in order to receive donations from a Hong Kong bank.

The Italian weekly L'Espresso has been publishing in recent weeks a series of stories based on an enormous cache of documents made available to select media worldwide by the “International Consortium of Investigative Journalists” (ICIJ).

The documents detail the movements and beneficiaries of 122,000 offshore companies and trusts, set up by some of the world's largest banks and consultancies.

In its upcoming issue, L'Espresso writes that the Cook Islands-based “Cosmo Trust,” set up in 1997 with the assistance of global consultancy PriceWaterhouseCoopers, lists Hong Kong's “Focolare Movement” as a beneficiary.

Created by Italian laywoman Chiara Lubich in 1943, Focolare is one of the largest new movements within the Catholic Church, placing a strong emphasis on interfaith dialogue and lay leadership. It has a presence in 182 countries and is particularly rooted in Asia.

According to L'Espresso, a “Focolare Ltd” company was created in 1970. It became “Focolare Movement” in 1987 in order to “collect donations in Hong Kong from a local bank.”

The weekly stresses that many other charitable institutions appear to have links to the Cosmo Trust, including “The International Red Cross.”

According to experts, L'Espresso writes, some trusts include charitable and humanitarian organizations as beneficiaries in order to dispel suspicions and avoid scrutiny by watchdogs.

In a statement, the Focolare movement said the Espresso story “did not match the facts,” and denied any involvement with the Cosmo Trust.

The trust, it said, “is completely unrelated to the Focolare Movement.”

The movement explains that it sets up “financial entities” in all the countries where it is present – including Hong Kong - “in compliance with local laws.”

In Hong Kong, Focolare has been present since 1970 and is registered as a “charitable institution or trust.”

Its balance sheets and financial statements are made public on a yearly basis, as prescribed by the law, and there is a limit on the sums that the Hong Kong-based entity can receive. Each operation is subject to government approval, the movement stresses.

Moreover, Focolare says that the change in denomination from “Focolare Ltd” to “Focolare Movement” did not change the nature of the “financial entity,” and so it was not done in order to collect donations from a Hong Kong bank.

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