Since the Vatican financial scandal began making headlines in 2018, businessman Raffaele Mincione has found himself the focus of international media attention, of conspiracy theories, and of six legal cases, in five countries.
For the Anglo-Italian investment manager who sold a London building to the Vatican’s Secretariat of State, the transaction has become truly the deal of a lifetime, in the worst ways possible.
Since parting with the property in 2018, capping off a five-year business relationship with the Holy See, Mincione has seen his bank accounts frozen in Switzerland, criminal charges filed against him in Vatican City, and his social life collapse.
He and his legal team are due in Vatican court in December to present their closing arguments there but, Mincione says, the end of the trial is just the beginning of his efforts to clear his name, and rebuild his life, his business, and his reputation.
In that work, Mincione faces an uphill climb.
Mincione’s name has become synonymous with the scandal of Vatican finances, and linked inextricably to the other nine defendants with whom he is on trial, some he has done business with, and some he’s never met.
Along the way, Mincione has faced serious questions about his work for the Vatican, and his relationships with the other defendants, none of which he’s been willing to answer at length in public before.
But Mincione is adamant that he is innocent, an honest businessman unfairly caught up in a scandal in which he’s become as much a victim as the Vatican — and potentially standing to lose even more.
After years of declining interview requests, Mincione agreed last month to speak with The Pillar. In the course of several phone calls, he offered to answer any questions about his dealings with the Vatican and, as he put it, “back up everything I say with documents.”
Mincione also forwarded to The Pillar a report from the international auditing firm PricewaterhouseCoopers, whom he commissioned to examine independently his dealings with the Secretariat of State.
The businessman provided several other documents to The Pillar on request, including legal briefs, contracts, and correspondence between himself, Vatican officials, various middlemen involved in the deal, and Swiss banks, outlining the investments he managed on the Vatican’s behalf.
On Oct. 21, Mincione spent several hours with The Pillar in the lobby bar of a New York City hotel, walking through the beginning of his relationship with the Vatican, the often surreal unfolding of the London property deal, and his current legal battles.
Whether his version of events is enough to convince Vatican judges that he is innocent, remains to be seen.
And there’s another question looming over all of that. When you read what Raffaele Mincione has to say, the most important question might be this: Would you trust him with your money?
Because the Vatican did exactly that.
The Mark Hotel is a well-suited place for a meeting with a businessman like Raffaele Mincione.
On the Upper East Side of Manhattan, it’s fashionably uptown from the city’s business center. The small lobby, all in black and white, is full of families with young kids, shepherded and patrolled by uniformed attendants.
It’s not a big hotel, and it’s not formal or stuffy, either. It’s stylish without being imposing and, unlike most places in New York, you can sit for five minutes without anyone asking you what you’re doing, or trying to sell you something.
Mincione is in town with his family, visiting from London where he lives and works, helping his daughters look at universities. He introduces himself with an apology for being late, though he is barely three minutes behind the time of the scheduled meeting.
His apology, like everything else about him, sounds sincere and personal. He’s dressed casually and unselfconsciously, without any of the telltale markers of aspirational bad taste often associated with high-priced investment managers and alumni of Goldman Sachs, though Mincione is both those things.
The only noticeable sign of wealth about him is his watch, a Rolex Oyster Perpetual — the brand’s most unpretentious model. Mincione’s is striking for its sunshine yellow dial.
It’s an interesting choice, suggesting a man who prefers quiet quality with a twist of individuality, rather than the flashy status symbols common in his industry, the Rolex Submariner or Daytona.
Raffaele Mincione has had a long night, having opened his trip to New York with a hospital visit for a dangerously serious spider bite, because of which he is wearing a discreet tube to continuously drain the wound.
His discomfort notwithstanding, he clearly wants to talk, and he has made a lot of time to do it.
He is also clearly nervous about doing an interview.
The last time Mincione spoke with a journalist, several years ago now, he says it didn’t go well for him, that he couldn’t tell his side of the story, and he was just taken for soundbites, to be written into someone else’s narrative.
Mincione is giving an interview now, he says, for several reasons. First, because his lawyers have told him it’s now safe to do so — and we’ll come back to that later — but second because he says he needs his side of the story to be heard and he isn’t getting the chance in court.
As it stands, Vatican prosecutors think Mincione should pay hundreds of millions of euros in penalties, and spend several years in prison.
How does he see the charges against him? Here’s what he said:
First there is a charge of embezzlement, in which basically they say that the fund didn't disclose that there was a mortgage from Deutsche Bank on the London building. I found this a little bit weird, to say the least.
Immediately, Mincione launches into a technical explanation, aiming to show that the value of the building, less the value of the mortgage on the property, was always reflected in the price of the Vatican’s stake in it.
More to the point, he says, all that was detailed in regular investor reports sent to the Vatican and to its bank, Credit Suisse, through whom he was contracted to manage Vatican money.
His explanation, while complicated, is backed up by the independent report from PwC.
But what comes across most strongly is Mincione’s frustration with the Vatican prosecutors, who, he says, refuse to engage with the details of their own allegations.
Another charge is peculato [misappropriation of funds], but I don’t understand — it was referring to the use of Peter's Pence money. Somebody in the process of investing supposedly used money which could not be used, because it belonged to Peter's Pence, which is supposed to be given to, well it's a disposal for helping the poor.
But this doesn’t make any sense to accuse me. If you want to accuse someone, you should accuse the bank — Credit Suisse. Because if you are the Vatican and deposit Peter's Pence money with Credit Suisse, you should tell Credit Suisse these funds cannot be used for anything else and it is also Credit Suisse’s duty to find out. But the Secretariat of State through Credit Suisse authorized the fund to invest the money in anything the fund decided to invest in.
To his point, Mincione produces an official document from the Secretariat of State granting him total discretion over the funds invested with him.
But the point is actually moot, to Mincione’s visible frustration.
Contrary to the prosecution’s original indictment, The Pillar has consistently reported that Peter’s Pence money was never directly invested with him.
Rather, the Secretariat of State used Vatican deposits with two Swiss banks — possibly including deposits of Peter’s Pence funds — as collateral to secure hundreds of millions of euros in loans, which were then invested with Mincione.
The Vatican’s chief prosecutor has since admitted as much, and in June dropped the allegation that Peter’s Pence money was wrongfully used during the prosecution’s final arguments.
There are a few money laundering accusations as well, which led Italian authorities to investigate me as well.
I guess the [Vatican] prosecutors must have asked for help from Italian prosecutors, but it produced basically nothing. The money has been seized, it has not been spent at all, it’s all still where it was, including in Switzerland.
The most ‘desirable’ accusation against me is the charge of corruption of a Vatican public official.
Supposedly, the fund gave money to the introducer of the deal then, apparently, this money was given to Enrico Crasso. But in England there's an introduction fee for everything, even for coffee. The fund got introduced to the deal, it paid the ‘finders fee,’ and it invoiced that on the fund’s balance sheet — it’s right there, and the fund paid that to the introducer.
They were able to seize my money in Switzerland, but when we asked for witnesses to testify to all of this, the prosecution objected. They have blocked anything and everything that can help my defense.
But the underlying assumption there is that ‘corruption’ exists because Crasso is a de facto ‘public official,’ an officer of the Vatican. But he’s supposed to be a banker, he never received a salary from the Vatican, he was paid by Credit Suisse. When I met him, he had a Credit Suisse business card, not a Vatican one. We met in the Credit Suisse office in Canary Wharf [London], I was never told or thought he was an officer of the Vatican.
The figure of Enrico Crasso emerges again and again in Mincione’s dealings with the Vatican, dating back years. Crasso is also a defendant in the current Vatican trial.
Crasso is facing a slew of charges, including embezzlement, corruption, extortion, money laundering, fraud, abuse of office, and forgery of both public and private documents.
He did indeed work for many years at the bank Credit Suisse, where he was point-man for much of the Secretariat of State’s business. But he eventually left the bank to set up his own investment company, taking the Secretariat of State with him as his biggest client.
Crasso’s company, Sogenal, which is also a defendant in the trial, launched the Centurion Global Fund, into which the Secretariat of State invested as much as 70 million euros. Crasso used the money to invest in projects like the Hollywood biopic of Elton John “Rocketman.”
Crasso also secured a 7 million euro Vatican investment by pitching a proposal which purported to be a bond raising money to finance the construction of a fictitious highway in North Carolina - the money was actually used to fund an equity stake in three Italian companies.
But all that came later.
Mincione’s real story begins with a question: How does an investment manager in London’s Mayfair district become involved with Vatican money in the first place?
Out of Africa
According to Mincione, the story begins with a businessman named Ivan Simetovic, who first introduced him into the world of Vatican finances in 2013, and through whom he is accused of “bribing” Enrico Crasso.
As Mincione tells it, Simetovic and Mincione’s company hadn’t had a great track record of working together.
First, we got to know Simetovic when he was working in Mediobanca, and we bought Banca Popolare Milano shares through Mediobanca and he was the main guy that executed transactions. And it was a big transaction, we had to buy 9.79% of the bank. And that's when we met him.
Then a few years later, after he left Mediobanca, he came back to us with one of these rounds to raise capital for Twitter. He introduced us to the Twitter guys. That deal, I don't know, we placed some orders on behalf of some clients, but it didn't go through. In the end, the allocation went to somebody else, not to us.
Then we had a fund in which I bought out my clients, they were not happy with the investment decisions of the fund. It's okay, I thought, I will pay for it myself. And I tried to sell it to the San San Marino national pension fund, whatever it was called, I don't remember, through Simetovic because he's from San Marino. And we had a few meetings with these people, whatever, but nothing happened.
And then at the end of 2012, he came up with this deal in Angola, to invest in Angola oil. I did some investment in Nigeria with oil previously, so he said why don't you go and speak to the guys in Credit Suisse.
So, Simetovic organized this meeting where I went to Canary Wharf, to Credit Suisse, and there was Crasso and a few others. They explained to me the deal. I asked three questions:
First, why didn’t Credit Suisse just make the investment? They say that Credit Suisse, being the manager of the money, would not want to be the investors, the ones making the decisions, otherwise there would've been a conflict of interest.
They also said that they had no expertise on Angola, and then they said they thought that we could do better than them.
And I said okay, second, who's the client? Since he's putting all $200 million in Angola, I want to meet the client. So then we got to the Vatican, where we met Fabrizzio Tirabassi [a lay official at the Secretariat of State, also on trial] and Msgr. Alberto Perlasca [a priest official at the department and one of the prosecution’s star witnesses in the case].
They explained this deal to me and we found it weird.
It was, by anyone’s standards, a weird situation for Mincione.
Even in the sometimes free-wheeling world of London investment banks and private investment management, it would be unusual to be asked to oversee an investment of $200 million, all to be sunk into a single prearranged deal in Angolan oil prospecting— especially when the man pitching the plan has a track record of not closing the deal.
It would be even weirder to learn that the client was ultimately the Catholic Church, and to find yourself sitting down in a Vatican office having the whole plan explained to you by a priest and a supposedly mid-ranking lay bureaucrat.
Surely Mincione had to be skeptical, unless he found some incredibly compelling explanation for the “weirdness” of the deal he was being asked to climb aboard?
But, of course, that is where Cardinal Angelo Becciu, the star defendant in the financial trial, entered Mincione’s story.
And when he started talking to Becciu, Mincione says that he started feeling good about doing business with the Church.
Becciu, Mincione says, made him think initially that all of this could be a good idea.
Perlasca told me that Cardinal Becciu was the apostolic nuncio in Angola for seven, maybe eight years, and this guy in Angola, Antonio Mosquito [in whose project the $200 million was to be invested] was a good Catholic guy who funded the Catholic Church in Angola, through construction of different churches or something.
They explained to me that between them they had deep knowledge of the place, of the country.
And we thought, actually how naive of us, we thought great, we are doing some sort of political-economical investment. This was a communist country in a civil war for 20 years — we felt that we were part of, I don't know, some form of bringing Catholic culture to Angola.
I don't know how to describe this, but we felt kind of like we are doing something which is not just making money but also there is much more behind it. Nobody has told me that. That was me feeling in that way, basically.
But, despite the assurances of Perlasca and Tiribassi and their confidence in Cardinal Becciu’s apparently deep knowledge of the Angolan oil market, the deal didn’t happen.
And according to Mincione’s telling of events, it was he who stopped the deal.
What happened was, despite all the politics or whatever with the deal, we are numbers guys. And then when we checked all the numbers, it couldn't work because it was a form of project financing at the end, not an investment.
We were going to be given as a collateral for the investment the assets that we were actually financing to have built, nothing else, nothing more. That was the theory — in fact the money wouldn’t even have done that.
When we checked, we found it would go to clear Mosquito's past debts. So I was thinking, okay, you put in $100, $200 million there, we clean up this guy’s debts, we’d have the assets, but then we’d actually need more injections of money to develop these things.
But I think for us what really killed the deal was that it was all dependent on oil prices staying above $110 per barrel — $116 I think it was.
We tried to buy a hedge, a future, which guaranteed that price, as insurance on the deal. You can do this without much cost for six months, it costs a little bit for 18 months. Past the 18 months, it would cost double of your capital that you're investing, that type of hedge. We needed to cover 10 or 15 years. That was just undoable.
We went back to them [Credit Suisse and the Secretariat of State], we proved all this with numbers, and we said no, I don't think you should do this.
At that point, Mincioe says, he offered to bill the Vatican and the bank for the due diligence work he and his team had done — the work meant to prove that investing hundreds of millions of dollars in borrowed money to cover the debts of Cardinal Becciu’s friend in Angola was, surprisingly, a terrible business plan.
He also says he offered to walk away from the whole project since, as it had been pitched to him, that was the only deal the Secretariat of State was supposedly interested in.
Instead, Mincione says, he got the impression Msgr. Perlasca was actually relieved to see the deal killed, and the men at the Vatican quickly came back to him asking for other ideas on what they could do with the $200 million it had planned to spend in Angola.
London property, global opportunities
In 2012, Mincione proposed to create an investment fund for the $200 million the Secretariat of State had planned to put behind the Angola plan — the Athena Global Opportunities Fund.
When the Vatican agreed, and deposited the money with him the following year, Mincione used the fund to invest in several of his other businesses and projects.
One way to read the Athena fund’s balance sheet is to say that Mincione used Vatican money to give his businesses injections of investment or to make no-penalty loans. One way to do that was to have the Vatican buy bonds issued by his own holding company, Time & Life — all while charging the Vatican millions of euros in performance and management fees.
This is how Vatican state media described it in June 2020, when they accused Mincione of channeling Holy See money into “speculative” and self-interested projects. It’s also how Vatican prosecutors see things.
But Mincione disputes that reading.
The Time & Life bonds he had the Vatican buy were, he says, his way of getting the Vatican some financial return on the portion of the 200 million funds that he hadn’t allocated to other investment projects — back in 2013, Mincione points out, loose cash in the bank basically lost value, since interest rates were near zero and outpaced by inflation.
And, Mincione says, even as a place to keep the balance of cash not invested by the fund, his own company’s bonds made the Secretariat of State money.
In their report on Mincione’s investment for the Vatican, PwC accountants concluded that “the subscription of Time & Life bonds did not generate any losses for the sub-fund. Indeed, the calculations… show that the interest accrued by the GOF during the Reference Period amounted to approximately Euro 3.5 million.”
Whatever the disagreement about bonds, no one disputes that the biggest investment Mincione made on the Vatican’s behalf was a nearly 50% stake in a London property, at 60 Sloane Ave — a property that was owned by Mincione himself, through one of his companies.
And that building is, rightly or wrongly, at the heart of the current trial in Vatican City.
For Mincione, it was a natural investment to offer the Secretariat of State — and much better than betting on the Angolan oil market.
We explained to them that we wanted to offer them a balanced fund, of which a percentage is property, 40-50% property, 30% of corporate bonds which yield 8, 9, 10%, and we do a smaller part of equity. We were trying to mimic that type of investment, and the building fitted the profile.
On paper, that meant the Secretariat of State got a 48% stake in the building. That investment accounted for basically half the investment fund’s capital, which put the building’s value at 200 million.
But 200 million what?
That question — the question of currency — became a big issue. According to Mincione, it became one of the reasons the Vatican went on to lose an estimated 100 million euros on the building when it was eventually resold.
Although Mincione’s company operates from London, the fund in which the Vatican invested was registered in Luxembourg, and the Secretariat of State’s investment, made through Credit Suisse, was delineated in U.S. dollars.
As a result, the secretariat’s dollar investment was converted into euros via its investment in the Athena Fund — but half of the value of that investment was tied to a London building valued in pounds sterling.
Mincione has faced criticism for valuing the property at significantly more than he paid to buy it only a few years previously.
But according to Mincione and supported by documents given to The Pillar, Mincione had the London building independently valued several times, including at the time of the Vatican’s investment, and again when the secretariat decided to buy the building outright.
A former warehouse for the department store Harrods, the property was an office building that he had bought with the plan of developing into expensive residential apartments.
Although the building was burdened with a substantial mortgage, that was factored into its value at the time it was appraised. Key also was that Mincione had to secure development permission for its conversion to residential use in the booming London property market.
But here’s what changed: When the United Kingdom withdrew from the European Union, the pound dropped against the euro and the dollar — and London’s real estate market shuddered to a halt.
But, in 2013, when the Secretariat of State invested with Mincione, with the fund up and running the following year, none of that was at play.
Under the terms of the investment agreement, the secretariat’s money was subject to a “lock up” in the fund for five years, giving Mincione those five years to generate returns on the investment, and then another two years to wind up the investments for a final profit.
In short, when the Vatican signed up with Mincione, he was given seven years to generate a profitable return.
But, within four years, the relationship broke down completely, and the Secretariat of State ended up withdrawing its money early. How and why that happened is the real genesis of the current Vatican financial scandal and trial.
Everybody’s doing it
Nearly anyone trying to follow the Vatican Secretariat of State’s foray into the London property market has been stymied by a web of companies nestled within companies, in a labyrinth that makes the actual ownership of anything unclear.
When the Vatican invested in the London building, it’s easiest to say that Mincione owned it. It would be more accurate to say that the building was owned by a company in the Channel Islands, a tax haven for European business.
That company was itself owned by another, and that company owned by a third company, all of them registered in the Channel Islands.
The third company, in turn, was controlled by Mincione’s company in Luxembourg — all for a building in London.
To an outsider, it’s hard to imagine there’s a wholly innocent explanation for all of that. In fact, that’s exactly what has been argued against Mincione in Vatican court.
But, according to Mincione, that’s just how business gets done.
That was what everybody was doing to be tax efficient at the time. There were also some laws that [Prime Minister David] Cameron introduced, to stop the use of these shell companies, because, it was not our case, but you always have to be worried about Russian money or any money, or what type of money, that was coming to the country through that structure.
This was not a structure that was invented by us, it was a structure that our fiscal advisors, legal firms from London, put in place 20 times a day for every single type of investor.
As Mincione tells it, officials at the Secretariat of State actually wanted to do more to optimize tax strategy than even Mincione was comfortable with.
In fact, I'm going to tell you even this, they tried to change [the structure]. [Msgr.] Perlasca and [lay Vatican official] Tirabassi, they were trying many times to convince me to change to a different type of situation, which we did not like, which was to have the shell, the first company, owned 100% by them, and us having a control on the economics of the building, because they showed us a paper, if they [the Vatican] own 100% of a company, they have a tax-exempt status with HMRC [His Majesty’s Revenue and Customs department] in London.
But if I was doing that, I would be hiding our profit under [the Church’s tax exemption], but I live in England and I’ve learned that’s something that you never do. You do not make any type of mistakes with the fiscal authorities in an Anglo-Saxon country, I would say.
Mincione says he soon found his management of the Vatican’s investment clouded by interference from all sides of the deal.
We always had these things with Perlasca wanting [to interfere]. It’s funny because he even said that in court. I was at the back, and he was speaking to the judges and saying, ‘Oh, I even told Mr. Mincione where to invest and not to invest. He never listened to me. If he would've listened to me, he would not be here then.’
That is not true, in any way.
We’d never let him tell us where to invest, ever, because he doesn't have the skills… It was more me informing him what we were doing with it. And you see now that there is this gigantic trouble, everybody's looking the other way. Meaning, were we asking or were we telling?
But let's say that there is no trouble whatsoever; you just are just a very lucky fund manager that never received money from the Vatican and you have a normal life. Your major concern will be to be perceived as a conduit from the authority that can remove, take away, your fund management license.
Our duty is to the bylaws of the subscription form that you sign off. It's not for you [as investor] to decide anymore. We have to comply with the contract, not with what you're telling us.
But, Mincione says, problems with managing Vatican money went way beyond Church officials trying to give him investment instructions — and in some cases, he claims to have run into outright fraud.
He recalled a strange 2015 phone call from a bank:
Let's say it was 14 October 2014, we are up and running. Three months later, I think it was January or February 2015, our custodial bank, Societe Generale, called us and said, ‘You didn't put the execution of this deal into the system, we cannot match it. Please, can you put in the [instruction for the] acquisition of 10 million euros of this bond?’
Well, we won't because we don’t know what they are talking about... we didn't do that trade. And we said, ‘What bond is this?’ Then they show me the bond. We said, ‘But this is a stupid bond for an old lady, they still owe the optionality by giving them a very small coupon for 10 years.’ We say, ‘we would never buy these things.’
‘Oh yeah,’ the bank told me, ‘but your employee, one of your fund managers, called in and organized this deal.’ I say, ‘Who?’ ‘His name is Enrico Crasso.’
We told them ‘Enrico Crasso doesn't work here [at Mincione’s company]. He has no power to execute any deal.’
‘Oh, it's not what we've been told,’ the bankers said.
That's when we called [Vatican official] Tirabassi and said ‘Well, do not let this man set foot in my office ever again. What he’s done is so, I don't know, wrong that it's beyond all limits.’
That's when we [Crasso and I] stopped talking to each other.
Wait a minute.
It’s one thing to say that Vatican bureaucrats were taking an aggressively amateur interest in giving investment advice.
It’s on a whole different level to say that a banker at Credit Suisse in London called the Athena fund’s bank in Luxembourg and misrepresented himself as an employee, so that he could order trades.
Isn’t that fraud?
Mincione showed The Pillar emails between his team and Societe Generale about the attempted bond purchase, including Crasso’s claim that it was a “misunderstanding.”
But surely that kind of behavior would put the whole investment deal in jeopardy, and should result in a formal professional complaint?
With the benefit of hindsight, Mincione says he should have filed a complaint against Crasso then and there.
But that isn’t what he did.
We called Tirabassi at the Vatican and we said, ‘What do you want me to do? This is what happened.’
And Tirabassi said, ‘Well, probably there's a misunderstanding. He talked to me about it.’
We said, ‘Well, what do you want me to do?’ and he said ‘Let's leave it like it is.’
We said, ‘On one condition: This guy doesn't speak to me ever again.’ And that was the agreement.
That may have been the agreement, but it wasn’t the end of Crasso’s involvement in Mincione’s business with the Vatican.
For a deal originally struck in 2013, and meant to last until 2021, things unraveled remarkably quickly between Mincione and the Secretariat of State.
According to the terms of the investment, Mincione’s fund was supposed to have five years to generate a return, with an additional two years to wind down the fund and return the Vatican’s original stake plus their profits.
Mincione has said in Vatican court that if the Secretariat of State had abided by those terms, their investment would have seen a decent return— even allowing for the market turmoil created by Brexit and then the pandemic.
But months after the investment fund came online, Mincione says, he was already dealing with Vatican officials advising him on questionable corporate structures, and a banker trying to trade with his fund behind his back.
All of that though, was nothing compared to what Mincione says happened next, when secretariat officials decided they wanted to withdraw from the fund early.
In June 2016, Britain held a referendum on the country’s continuing membership of the European Union, with voters deciding to leave the supranational group.
The result was considerable market turmoil — the value of British currency plummeted on international exchanges and the London real estate market stagnated for practically the first time in decades as international residents were left wondering about their immigration status.
The timing couldn’t have been worse for the Athena fund, with half its eggs in the basket of a single London building, which it basically planned to flip, by getting government permission to convert it from office building to apartments, and then selling off the building — and the permission — to a developer who would do the work.
Mincione says that city permission to convert the building into residential apartments came in December that year, six months after the Brexit vote and right in the middle of market turmoil.
Before the change in political weather, Mincione says he was already getting offers for the building over 300 million euros. But the offers were contingent on planning permission for the project coming through.
December 16th we got the permit I believe, and if I'm not wrong, June 16th was [the] Brexit [vote]. We were six months too late. One moment every single person wanted to buy a property in London — the real estate market in England, in London, was sky-high — six months later the market is frozen.
The plan was to sell the building to a big developer who's going to do the project and make money, and he would pay us a premium for not having to wait the three years doing the work we did to get planning permission for the project.
That was the idea. Then the market got frozen; [Msgr] Perlasca started to become very… ‘unrested.’ Is that a good word?
More than 1,000 miles from Sloane Avenue, in Vatican City, Perlasca may have had good reason to become “unrested.”
Shortly after his election in 2013, Pope Francis announced that he was creating a slew of new financial regulatory bodies, aiming to bring transparency and proper accountability to the perennially scandal-prone world of Vatican finances.
Most notably, Cardinal George Pell was appointed prefect of the new Secretariat for the Economy, with a broad brief over all curial finances and a direct line of reporting to Pope Francis.
Shortly after taking up his new job, Pell said he’d already identified hundreds of millions of euros in assets and investments “tucked away,” off departmental balance sheets. The cardinal issued a new curia-wide set of accounting rules, which came into force in 2015.
Alongside Pell’s department, Francis also created an Office of the Auditor General for the Vatican, appointing an auditor with an international reputation, Libero Milone, to lead it.
By 2016, with new rules in place, Pell and Milone had their departments up and running. They were at work trying to bring onto a single ledger the assets and investments from across the dozens of different Vatican departments and their subsidiary bodies.
But some departments were less cooperative than others.
In their dealings with the Secretariat of State, Pell and Milone discovered an attempt to conceal from Vatican auditors both the secretariat’s loans from the Swiss banks, and its investment with Mincione.
According to senior officials in the Secretariat for the Economy, the Secretariat of State had made an illicit accounting move to mask from the ledger sheet what they were up to: They used supposed value of their investments with Mincione to zero out the debts of the outstanding loans at Credit Suisse and another Swiss bank — so that neither a balance nor a debt was shown.
The tactic had been expressly prohibited in the 2015 Francis-approved policies circulated by Pell.
Vatican officials have previously told The Pillar that Cardinal Becciu, then-sostituto at the Secretariat of State, approved the illicit accounting maneuver, as part of his moves to block Pell and Milone’s oversight of his department’s finances.
Becciu has repeatedly denied this. But the records indicate and his department became involved with a fierce turf war with Pell and Milone, acting to persuade Pope Francis to cancel a Vatican-wide independent audit, arranged by Pell, to be conducted by PwC, and demanding the secretariat be exempted from oversight by Pell and Milone’s departments.
By the end of 2017, Pell had to take a leave of absence from his job in Rome to return to Australia, where he spent years in court, and then prison, before finally being cleared of accusations of sexual abuse by the country’s highest court.
Shortly after Pell’s departure in 2017, Becciu arranged for Milone’s forced resignation, publicly claiming the auditor was “spying” on his private financial affairs and threatening him with criminal prosecution in Vatican City. Becciu claims he was acting on the pope’s orders. Milone has said he was ousted by Becciu for being too good at his job, and that the cardinal became his archnemesis, as Milone tried to bring light into the shadows of Vatican finance.
But while all that was playing out in the Vatican, Mincione says he had come under serious Vatican pressure to sell the London building, and then found himself presented with a succession of downright bizarre business proposals.
A brief encounter
For Mincione, everything that happened in 2018 began with a supposedly chance encounter, at the end of the previous year, when Mincione was introduced to Gianluigi Torzi, perhaps the only man more synonymous with the Vatican financial scandal than Mincione.
And, as Mincione tells it, Torzi deserves that association.
I met Gianluigi Torzi for the first time in my life in December 2017. I even remember where. I was in a restaurant in Baretto, in Milan and I was at the table. There at another table was Nicolo Squillace [another defendant in the current Vatican trial] and Torzi having dinner. And then Squillace, who I knew as a lawyer, stood up and said, ‘Ah, Raffaele, let me introduce this guy.’ I said ‘Okay. Hi, how are you? Goodbye.’
Mincone resumed his meal and that was the last he thought he’d hear of the man. But that’s not what happened.
And then a week later, we were looking into the Banca Carige deal together. Somebody must have told Squillace that I was trying to organize that deal.
In 2018, Mincione’s company took a sizable stake in Banca Carige, a regional Italian bank, betting that the institution was undervalued, and backing a change in its leadership.
Torzi arranged the financing for that deal.
Squillace flew to London, brought Torzi to my office and told me, ‘Why don't you do the deal? We should be able to have this brokerage house set it up.’
The brokerage house in question was one of Torzi’s companies, Global Prime Partners.
‘[Torzi’s] GPP can finance you the stake [Squillace said]. We can give a lot of leverage on your investment because of Torzi, who is one of the shareholders.’
I believe he owned 15 or 20% of GPP.
Torzi will sign off on this investment for you,’ he said.
And I felt, ‘Okay, how would you like to do it?’ And then he said, ‘We’ll do this…’ And it was a contract that the first 70% [return on the investment] was his. And above 70%, let's say if it doubles, we make some money. If it triples, we make serious money. If it goes more than triple, then we do a 50/50 split or whatever.
Mincione now looks back and says that meeting Torzi in a Milan restaurant changed his business fortunes, and his life. He says he is still struggling to come to terms with how it all happened.
When the Vatican financial scandal was first making headlines, Mincione described his connection to Torzi as almost nothing — just two Italians living in London.
But since then, the obvious connections between the men have prompted numerous questions from a skeptical press.
The Pillar has previously reported company records which show that in the first two months of 2018, Mincione’s company borrowed a total of 26 million euros from both GPP and another of Torzi’s companies, Sunset Financial, secured against the value of shares they acquired in Banca Carige.
From bumping into Squillace in a restaurant, Mincione had soon found himself on one end of a sizable business deal with Torzi. It seems a remarkably quick progression in their relationship.
It's funny. That's something very striking about the whole story. But then, as you know, Carige didn't go well.
The way the agreement between Torzi and Mincione was set up might seem complicated. Here’s what you need to know — once they did the deal, if the share value of Banca Carige had gone up, everyone would have made money. If it went down, everyone would lose.
Later that year, the value of Banca Carige crashed. Everybody lost.
Mincione’s company reported a 17.5 million euro loss on its 24.9 million stake, leaving it unable to cover its financial obligations to Torzi.
Torzi lost 20 million and we lost five million. There was a margin call and we put 5 million towards GPP hoping that the stock would plateau, or bounce back, and we’d get our money back, the usual trading bullshit.
It didn't plateau. It kept going down. Then we lost the five; he lost the 20 by, we think, losing his stake into GPP. They bought him out and they sent him away from the company. That was by September , I think.
Mincione might not have known at the time, but just as Torzi was offering to lend Mincione money from Sunset and GPP in the hopes of a quick return on investment, he was in need of some pretty quick cash himself.
Torzi and Sunset were being pursued by Net Insurance, an Italian insurance company, which accused Torzi of misappropriating more than 26 million euros in government bonds from the insurance company, in what lawyers called a “sophisticated fraud.”
As part of a legal settlement between Torzi and Net, he had to repay the value of the missing bonds, in part by arranging the sale of the 10 million euros of a bond for Net, or buying them himself.
He was on the hook for 10 million euros. And that seems to have driven a lot of Torzi’s decisions.
Later in 2018, after the Carige deal failed and he had gained control of the London building, Torzi was recorded trying to pressure Crasso and Tirabassi to buy 10 million euros worth of the same kind of bond in exchange for control of the London property, telling the men he’d be “in the shit” if he couldn’t secure the investment.
But to get to that point, there’s an even stranger story: How Torzi got control of the London building in 2018.
By June 2018, Mincione said, he was coming under significant pressure from the Secretariat of State to sell the London building, so the profits could be realized by the Athena fund — several years before the fund was due to wind up.
That June, the department’s sostituto, Archbishop Angelo Becciu, was named a cardinal by Pope Francis, and promoted away from overseeing the Secretariat of State’s financial affairs — he was transferred to lead the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, charged with reviewing processes of canonization.
In his place, Archbishop Edgar Peña Parra was named sostituto. He ordered an immediate review of the investments.
Peña Parra, who is not on trial, has told Vatican prosecutors that when he arrived in his new posting he found “the overall management was aimed at financial speculation and not at the conservative and safe preservation of the assets of the Secretariat of State.”
Peña Parra’s said that officials of his new department had acted to stone-wall financial oversight, to blindside superiors with last minute decisions, and to deploy accounting sleights-of-hand to cover the true state of the department’s financial affairs — many of the things The Pillar has reported in recent years.
But while the archbishop has said he took immediate action to get out of the more complicated deals his department was involved in, there have been a lot of questions about a crucial point: Who was Peña Parra taking advice from?
And did his intervention actually make things much worse?
That's why they were asking me to liquidate investments. That's probably that's why.
Tirabassi called in June [of 2018]. I don't think Perlasca was there, but Perlasca, Tirabassi... they are the same person. It is difficult to remember when I've ever been in a meeting, very difficult, that there were not the two of them together.
Tirabassi told us ‘We are fed up; you’ve had 18 months to sell the building with the [development] permits, I don't think you are doing a proper job. You don't want to be fighting with the Vatican.’
I don't think they really wanted to divest from the fund. I think that most importantly they wanted to have more liquidity. I think Crasso behind the scene was putting a lot of pressure. This is my opinion.
He was no longer at Credit Suisse and he wanted to have all the money back under him so he can make more money in management, so the fund now is very appealing to him to be the new manager.
As it happens, Mincione says, he’d been approached the previous month with an offer to buy the building for the full 350 million asking price, but the actual details of the deal didn’t seem right to him. The potential buyer was only offering less than a third of the asking price in cash, with the rest coming in the form of an equity stake in an Italian company.
We didn't like it because it was an offer which included an exchange of equities. We would get some liquidity. We would've got liquidity probably for 100 million. But we would've been exposed for 250 million on the equity of this public company in Italy.
That was May. Then in June, we start to have this pressure from the Vatican, and in September we have this guy Torzi who comes to me and says ‘I lost 20 million on Banca Carige.’ I say, ‘I'm sorry for you.’ He says, ‘Do you have any deals then I can make my money back somehow?
I said, ‘Listen, no, we are not a bank, but we are trying to sell a building. If you can find a buyer who can do 350 million, we can even give you a reasonable fee if it’s for the full asking price.’ He asks ‘Could you give me some documents, something to show me what the project is?’ so we give everything to him.
Stupid me, but I think he already knew.
Torzi comes back right away and says ‘I have a sheik, Sheik Salah, who wants to buy the building.’ And along with the sheik came this guy, Luciano Capaldo.
We said, ‘No, be careful. We don't want to have any strange Arabs that could be funding, we don't know, some Holy War — since the Vatican is involved we need to be even more diligent. We need to be careful.’
‘Oh no, no, no, no, no,’ he says. ‘We checked him out. He was on Abu Dhabi One [the AD-1 tower development].’ And he didn't have anything, how can I say, mysterious or whatever — he had a property in England. Apparently Capaldo was his architect. He did some property for him. He refurbished his house or something. And then this sheik looks like he’s about to buy it, coming into the meetings, whatever, starting from September.
But when Mincione’s team started digging into the offer, they discovered something strange.
Apparently, it wasn’t the first time they had encountered Luciano Capaldo — though they didn’t know it.
We didn't put two and two together right away, but Capaldo was the chairman of the company that put the offer in at 350 million in May.
We realized that the chairman of the company from the offer in May is Capaldo. And Capaldo introduced this Sheik Salah, but they are all basically the same people. But we only understood this much later when we started to look into the papers.
It seems like a pretty big detail to miss in the initial round of due diligence for a 300 million euro deal.
I want to remind you that in our office we are now 120 people. At the time we were 40 only. We have an office in London, one in Luxembourg, now one in Milan. At the time there we did not have Milan, but I'm not involved in every detail of every deal.
There are a lot of papers that come to us proposing these weird, stupid deals. People go through them, and there is one good one out of 1000 which are idiotic — we all of us have to help look into it.
As it happens, Capaldo and Torzi’s proposed deal, and the sheik behind it, never came to anything.
Meetings dragged on for months, and though Mincione says he was open to receive an offer, nothing solid ever came through.
In the meantime, Torzi re-emerged as the face of an altogether different plan for the London property. But not before Mincione says he had learned not to trust the man he’d only just met a few months before.
In June, Mincione's Athena fund – in which the Vatican was the sole investor – invested several million euros in Sierra One SpV, a financial product marketed by Torzi.
It might surprise you that Mincione invested in a Torzi idea, especially because there was a lot going on in that bond, little of it good, and none of it profitable for an investor.
It included securitized debts issued by facility management company Esperia SpA, which was ordered into forced liquidation for alleged ties to a Camorra mafia crime family in July, 2018.
The bond also included securitization of debt owed to a Catholic hospital in Rome, Fatebenefratelli, over which Torzi, along with two of his companies, ended up under investigation by Italian authorities for an alleged multi-million euro fraud.
In fact, Mincione himself says he eventually made a criminal complaint for fraud against Torzi over the bonds.
But not before he had put some money into it.
Sometime in May 2018 Torzi shows up and asks “Would you do a quick deal? Could you arrange finance for 60 days — 60 days — of these Sierra bonds, I'll pay you 8%.’
We looked into it and there was an opinion from Ernst & Young which said that it was similar to investing in government bonds. We got 10 million of these things with a purchasing contract with him that we will buy these for 60 days, and he will buy them back plus 8%, which we thought in 60 days we make 8% return for the Vatican’s fund, it’s a good deal.
Then things turned sour. We started to discover a lot of things about this guy. We did a first check on him when I met him, we did two KYCs [Know your Client checks, mandatory in the banking sector] one in January, one in March, 2018, which showed nothing on his record, nothing.
Then we started to be more suspicious that something was wrong, because this guy was never keeping his word about anything, and we started to ask him for the 10 million back that we invested in this Sierra bond. He managed to give me back 6.1 [million] but we were short of the other 3.9 million, plus the 8%.
For that reason, we went to the police in Italy.
We denounced him to the police, and we proved that Capaldo, who is also one of the main witnesses in the trial, was his partner. He was appointed in one of the companies to be the evaluator of the health receivable issue by the regional health authority.
I mean, you can write 20 books about all of this, but the prosecutors keep talking about me being in a conspiracy.
Me? I was the target.
Mincione produced for The Pillar a copy of his 16-page criminal complaint for fraud, deposited with the court in Rome, in which he names both Torzi and Capaldo.
So let’s sum up:
By November 2018, Gianluigi Torzi has met Mincione in a restaurant, loaned him 24 million euros for an investment deal that went bad, and introduced him to Luciano Capaldo who, it turns out, was behind two different bids for the London building, exactly as the Vatican was pressuring Mincione to sell.
In the middle of all of that, Torzi and Capaldo — according to Mincione — got him to invest 10 million euros of the Vatican’s money in a bond that didn’t pay out, and was part of several different criminal investigations in Italy.
It’s an action-packed acquaintance for barely 11 months.
But, maybe you’re wondering about something else: Whatever happened to the sheik and his offer?
I was ready [to sell]. I said [to Torzi and Capaldo]: ‘Guys, we are under so much pressure that even for an offer of 320, 310, even 300 million, we'll accept it. Please bring it to me.’ They had some meetings with my people to check if the ground was all to go ahead.
Then everybody just… disappeared. And then the really weird things started to happen.
Torzi comes to me in mid-November and starts saying ‘But why don't you sell it to the Vatican?’ I said, ‘Come on, the Vatican wants me to sell it in the first place, not buy it.’ We had all this pressure to sell it from them.
I told him, ‘What the fuck are you talking about? I'm not an idiot.’
Finally I said ‘Listen, if you can find some way to sell it, great.’ That was his plan, I think. They [Torzi and Capaldo] had already been talking with the Vatican, but I didn’t know.
Just to make things clear. Torzi was suggesting that Mincione, who was facing Vatican pressure to sell a building half-owned with Vatican investment directly to the Vatican. That was Torzi’s idea, he said.
The Vatican wanted to get out of the investment, clear its loans, and maybe put a little cash on its books. Torzi suggested getting them deeper into the project.
And somehow, weirdly, the idea got legs.
He starts saying ‘But why don't we speak to [Perlasca and Tirabassi]?’ He was already speaking to them, he was trying to make me say, ‘Yes, let's get on with this,’ in order to cover his tracks.
He told me ‘I know Perlasca’ And we were thinking, ‘Oh, he knows Perlasca?’ And we started to say, ‘We really don't trust this Torzi guy. Something strange is going on.’
My theory was Sheik Salah has made an offer of 310, 320 million. But Torzi is now forcing us to sell to the Vatican at 275, and then he gets 20, 30 million profit out of the sale for himself.
Soon, it was more than an idea.
That was November 2018, and a few weeks later, he told us that there was a deal.
Then he comes to us and says, ‘Okay, now I'm acting for the Vatican.’ I don't believe it. I tell him we want to have Crasso and Tirabassi in his office to hear them tell me that. When the meeting occurred, when Tirabassi and Crasso came to London, they told me that [Torzi] had their legal proxy and funding and everything from them [to continue].
I was like... I went back to my office and then I had a long debate with the three senior guys in my office, and we all said, ‘What the fuck is happening?’
There is me thinking he’s being arrogant and boasting and two weeks later there is a deal. And in three weeks the deal is done. I'm flabbergasted. I'm like, ‘What happened here?’
It was a blitz in a way. It happened all very quickly.
It did happen very quickly.
The Vatican took total ownership of the London building, via its three nested holding companies in the Channel Islands, along with the mortgage on the property.
In return for that, and for effectively pulling the plug on the Athena Fund years ahead of schedule, the Vatican gave Mincione all the remaining assets and investments in the fund, along with 40 million euros.
Torzi’s role in all of that was to be the middleman, delegated by the Secretariat of State to convey the building’s ownership to the Vatican, by transferring the building’s complicated ownership from Mincione’s Luxembourg company, through Torzi’s.
Everyone in the world of Vatican finance has a Luxembourg holding company, apparently.
The deal was signed and sealed in December 2018, one year after Mincione and Torzi first met.
There’s no disputing that, financially, Mincione did well out of the final arrangement — the Athena Fund closed early, and he lost control of its biggest asset, but he walked away with the balance of the investments in the Athena Fund — some of them quite lucrative, according to the PwC report.
Mincioe was also paid well for his troubles, a point Torzi tried to make by text in December, in an effort to smooth things over between the men.
It wasn’t well received.
Torzi sent me a message [in December, after the deal closed] asking ‘Are you happy?’
‘Are you happy?’ No, because he was the guy that screwed me. Then he was asking me if I was happy about the money. ‘But look how much money you made. Aren’t you happy? Aren’t you happy?’
No, I'm not happy, because I've been kicked out of a deal I worked on for years, which I think was doable and was going to make a lot of money, and I've been replaced with you. ‘Are you happy?’
I only answered badly once, in Italian, when I basically said, ‘Who gives a fuck about it, about the money?’
‘Are you happy?’
If they would've stayed put with the fund, the PwC report shows this, they would've come up at the end of the investment period with a 15 or 20 million euro profit.
But if Mincione was unsatisfied with how things ended for him, they didn’t work out well for anyone else, either.
Piecing together what happened next is a challenge.
According to corporate filings in Luxembourg and the arguments of Vatican prosecutors, Torzi took control of the London building through his company Gutt SA. He was then supposed to transfer Gutt into Vatican ownership, by which they’d acquire the building.
At the end of 2018, Torzi added the Vatican’s Fabrizio Tirabassi to the list of company directors — but he removed him again just a few weeks later.
Company filings show that Torzi then restructured the share structure of Gutt, creating a class of 1,000 controlling shares, which he kept for himself, while transferring 30,000 ordinary shares of the company to the Vatican.
While in theory this left the Vatican “owning” the vast majority of the company, it also left Torzi in total control of it — and the building.
Vatican prosecutors allege that Torzi attempted to extort the secretariat for 15 million euros in exchange for the voting shares.
According to Torzi’s own legal filings in London, that was always part of the plan — and he produced documents signed off by the Secretariat of State, showing that was the plan all along.
The Vatican argues that when Cardinal Pietro Parolin signed contracts to that effect, he was tricked — given fraudulent legal advice about the structure of Torzi’s proposal by the Secretariat of State’s chosen lawyer, who just happened to be Nicolo Squillace, the man who introduced Torzi to Mincione.
The Vatican also argues that Archbishop Peña Parra was badly advised, again by Squillace, when it gave Torzi legal authority to negotiate on the Vatican’s behalf.
Behind the scenes, Torzi seems to contend that the Vatican was changing the terms of the deal on him. Torzi had apparently expected to be given charge of developing or liquidating the property, and making a sizable commission in the process.
On leaked tapes of a Dec. 2018 meeting between Torzi, Tirabassi, and Crasso in an upscale Roman hotel, the men can be heard discussing Torzi’s control of Gutt, with Crasso suggesting that a payoff of 6-10 million euros could be possible, and Tirabassi warning that future financial reforms at the Vatican could centralize oversight and control of the secretariat’s finances.
“This is not good for you,” Tirabassi warned Torzi on the tape.
Torzi, in turn, demanded a 10 million Vatican investment in a bond project to cover his debt to Net Insurance.
But Torzi also claims that, having cut Mincione out of the deal, Crasso and Tirabassi were now trying to cut him out too.
He claims that they demanded he give the management shares of Gutt SA not to the Vatican, but to Crasso’s Centurion Fund, the private equity vehicle he used to manage other Vatican assets.
According to testimony Torzi gave to a UK court, things got downright mafiosi. In a 2021 ruling, a UK judge described Tirabassi as “not a man who was unaccustomed to questionable and nefarious practices. Mr Tirabassi openly admitted blackmailing several prelates of the church, including Cardinal Angelo Becciu.”
First “Tirabassi offered [Torzi] the services of a prostitute as a gift to acknowledge the work he had done, but Mr. Torzi declined the offer.”
Then Crasso and Tirabassi allegedly threatened Torzi’s family.
“You either give up the property and go away, or your life and that of your children is at risk,” they allegedly told him.
In the end, that didn’t happen.
Instead, Torzi got paid the money he demanded from the Vatican, and his family got a private audience with Pope Francis the day after Christmas.
The Secretariat of State finally got control of the building, through another holding company set up by the Vatican department, directly in London. Luciano Capaldo was made its first director.
In May 2019, in a memo to Pope Francis, Archbishop Peña Parra took credit for the resolution, saying he decided to “enter into negotiations” with Torzi because the alternative was “unpredictable reputational damage” if financial authorities found out that the Vatican was being shaken down.
The financial authorities found out anyway, though, when the Vatican’s retail bank, the Institute for Works of Religion, balked at Peña Parra’s demand for a 150 million euro loan to refinance the building’s mortgage.
From there, things snowballed quickly. In July 2019, the Vatican’s own prosecutors opened an investigation and, Mincione says, that’s when a bad deal turned into a nightmare.
According to Mincione, the first time he heard of Vatican dissatisfaction with the deal was from reporters.
Nobody from the Vatican ever came back to us and said there was a problem. I just started getting calls from journalists saying that I was being investigated by the Vatican.
I thought it was all done for everybody — it was a sealed, done deal, thank you and goodbye. I thought everybody was happy, except me. I had no idea what was cooking underneath.
And I found out from reporters calling, saying ‘there are rumors that you're going to be investigated, that you have embezzled from the Vatican.’ They're asking ‘Why?’ and I am asking ‘How?’
Mincione lawyered up, which sounds like a pretty defensive step to take after a few phone calls asking about a Vatican rumor. But Mincione says that’s just how things are in Italy.
In Italy, it's a common practice that journalists know before you do whatever is happening to you. I was not the first, I will not be the last and I was not surprised that they knew something I did not know.
We prepared a legal defensive brief with all the story, whatever happened, everything. So that when [Vatican prosecutors] did make contact, we were ready. And I asked candidly, I said ‘I want to be interrogated’ and asked if I could.
Everybody told me that this guy [Vatican prosecutor Alessandro] Diddi was not altogether there. He was not normal. So first I had my lawyer call and speak to him. And he said ‘So my client is coming, are you going to do something stupid or what?’
‘No, no, no,’ Diddi said. ‘If he doesn't lie to me, nothing will happen to him.’
[But] in fact, he’d already issued arrest warrants.’
In June 2020, prosecutors invited Torzi to a meeting in the Vatican where they arrested him. He quickly agreed to bail and was released, though the bail money never arrived. He’s been living in London and fighting extradition ever since.
According to Mincione, Diddi and his team tried the same tactic with him, at the same time.
Only Mincione was expecting the move.
I was in London and I read a story by an Italian journalist, quite reputable, I mean I don't know him, and he doesn't speak highly of me but he doesn't look like a guy who's easily influenced. Anyway, there was this article two days before I was supposed to have the meeting [with Diddi], in which this journalist wrote that if he was any of the persons involved in the story, he would never go to the Vatican because it looks like they're setting a trap.
Reading that I was thinking ‘This guy looks like he's writing directly to me because in two days I have to be there.’ So my lawyer went instead. I didn't go to the meeting.
My lawyer went and gave our legal summary, and Diddi got very upset that I wasn't there.
We cannot prove it, but when my lawyer left the Vatican he was followed by a car back to his home — my lawyer filmed everything, knocking on the window of the car and saying ‘Why are you following me?’ and the guy drove away, we have his face and everything.
We went to the police but he was an unknown person to them.
We cannot prove who he was, but you start to see what type of environment we are living in.
According to Mincione, his team has made multiple offers to meet with prosecutors, to provide them with evidence about the Vatican’s investment with him. But Mincione says that interest has been low.
Instead, prosecutors have sent a slew of formal legal requests to Swiss banking authorities, who have frozen tens of millions of euros of Mincione’s money, in the event of a court ruling against him in Vatican City.
Mincione says Diddi and the Vatican prosecutorial team are only interested in painting him as part of a conspiracy, and have refused his repeated offers to cooperate with them.
To that end, Mincione gave The Pillar copies of several lengthy legal memos sent to Diddi’s department, offering evidence and information about aspects of the case and offering to cooperate.
In response, Mincione says he’s heard nothing.
We've given them all the documents — and I have so much. Whatever you want to ask, I can give you a document and prove what I say.
I gave them all the documents that prove my… well, all the documents in my defense. I want to say ‘proving my innocence,’ I don't want to go so far, that would be kind of arrogant to say with the court still deciding.
But I would say I’ve given them a lot of documents and it's like [Diddi] has never read them because he's stuck on a three-year-old version of events that doesn’t make sense.
And he didn't produce a single amendment to his accusations and when he realized that I didn’t even take Peter’s Pence money he added new charges, bizarre new charges, of corruption. I bribed Crasso? For what? I refused to have anything to do with the man — and I can show the emails of him trying to go behind my back.
Sorry, Diddi wants for me a sentence of 11 and a half years in prison also because I've ‘not cooperated’ with him? I gave him all the papers, all the documents. I've been everywhere. I've been in court every time that they called me. This is non-cooperation?
The only ‘cooperation’ that Diddi wants is a guilty plea. You have to say you're guilty and then it's okay. If you do not confess, then you're guilty. Because I won’t do that, he’s asking for my punishment to be doubled in the sentence against me?
Mincione said he’s frustrated because he believes Vatican prosecutors are targeting him, instead of going after harder targets, like the Holy See’s banks.
This is supposed to be Catholic justice?
Mincione is full of questions he’d like to ask about how the investigation into him has been conducted, and why he is facing charges and not others.
If I am a criminal because I took the Vatican’s money as investment manager, why isn’t the bank accused? Why isn’t Credit Suisse accused in this, since Crasso worked there and they were the [Secretariat of State’s] custodian bank?
They say I took money, but my fees are transparent, they are in the contract. Credit Suisse charged them even higher [fees] and for what?
Mincione says he feels like he is the perfect kind of a defendant for the Vatican to pursue, even if he hasn’t committed a crime.
Because he has money, he thinks, the Vatican is hoping to claw back some of it — to recoup its losses — if he’s convicted. But he doesn’t have enough money, he says, to make prosecutors afraid of his legal team.
As things drag on in court, it is probably worth noting that both banks used to finance the Secretariat of State’s investment in the first place, BSI and Credit Suisse, have been forced into extinctive mergers under clouds of scandal and bad practice.
It’s tempting to look at the prosecution’s 500-page indictment document, and its list of 10 defendants, and conclude that the case is already complicated enough.
In fact, the case is arguably too complicated for the prosecutors to handle effectively in a single trial.
But Mincione thinks differently. He raises questions about the people who haven’t been charged.
Look at these people they have as their ‘key witnesses’.
Perlasca is a ‘key witness’ but not accused of anything. How? He signs everything, does all the meetings, he works with Torzi and Crasso and Tiribassi and me, in the middle of everything. But he is the clean one?
Capaldo, who works with Torzi on the offers for the building, brings in this sheik, disappears, then reappears all the time? He is a key witness, but not accused. How?
As it happens, during an April 2021 interview with Vatican investigators, Capaldo gave some indication of why he might have managed to stay in the Holy See’s good graces, and why he and Torzi had a falling out of their own.
Capaldo explained that he had agreed to help officials at the Secretariat of State spy on Torzi, since he had access for a period of time to surveillance cameras inside Torzi’s offices.
He passed information and images to Monsignor Mauro Carlino, a former official at the Secretariat of State, who is currently indicted for extortion and abuse of office.
Capaldo also put the Secretariat of State in touch with an “IT security expert” on electronic surveillance to use on the director of the IOR who first reported the whole London deal to investigators.
For Mincione, Peña Parra is not a great reformer. Mincione sees him as another unsavory character. And Mincione thinks the Vatican is protecting Peña Parra from the fallout of the secretariat’s bad business moves — moves Peña Parra insisted on in the first place.
Capaldo was the chairman of a company, a publicly listed company, that tried to buy the building for itself [in May 2018] at the same price he now says was too high. When that comes to court, he says, ‘Well, I just signed it.’ Like if it was nothing, he had nothing to do with it. It's a public company. You go to jail for that sort of thing if you don't believe in the value.
As he has said later on during this trial, he will give his life for Peña Parra. He said that. If he would die for Peña Parra then he would definitely lie for Peña Parra as well.
Tirabassi is on trial, fine OK. Perlasca is not.
But I think this has been done — you can write this, I'm not ashamed of thinking this — I think it’s all been done to protect Peña Parra who made the big mistake of bringing Torzi into the picture in the first place.
Probably the only people actually happy with the fallout of the London deal are Mincione’s lawyers.
In addition to his criminal trial in the Vatican, he now has several ongoing legal processes in other countries, too.
In fact, he filed suit in London in 2020, after Vatican state media accused him of misusing Church money, but before formal charges against him were announced.
He has also sued Credit Suisse, the bank through whom he got involved with the Vatican in the beginning, arguing that if anyone is to blame for putting money reserved for charity into investment pots, it’s the bankers who came up with the idea in the first place.
He also has open appeals in Switzerland, hoping to get his assets unfrozen.
Mincione has also sued at least one of Torzi’s many, many companies out of existence — and he happily showed The Pillar the legal notice.
For himself, his own business continues to make money, Mincione says, though he adds that the damage to his reputation caused by the scandal and trial is real and ongoing.
I don't think I'm taking what’s happening to me too seriously. I think I have a little bit of morals and I feel like they are trying to shake the tree to see what it will come down from me.
You must understand that when the prosecutors ask the judges for 500 million, it's from all the defendants together — it's not apportioned individually. It's not even proportional.
If nobody else has money and I have 500 million, I will have to pay the whole 500 million. That’s the plan.
If I had cheated, stolen money, whatever, fine, come after me. But nobody has ever come forward before to say I've done anything like what they are accusing me of doing.
Ironically, one of Mincione’s satisfied former customers seems to be the government of Vatican City itself. Mincione says he was working for the governorate of the city state even as the London deal was unspooling in the background and, unlike the Secretariat of State, the city government had no complaints about his work.
He showed The Pillar a 2020 letter signed by both the financial director and the secretary general of the governariat, closing off a consultancy deal, and thanking him for his “timely collaboration” which “has enabled the achievement of important results.”
The letter, seeming to show Mincione was considered a valued collaborator by one branch of the Vatican government while another was filing criminal charges against him, adds a touch of farce to his case, Mincione thinks.
But surely Mincione’s own narrative, with everything he’s said about his dealings with Crasso, Torzi, Capaldo, Perlasca, and Tirabassi, must look at least a little like a criminal conspiracy to him?
No, it is a bunch of incompetents who got together to create a gigantic mess.
Is there maybe criminal activity? I believe that there is, yes. But it's solely within the Vatican. For example, if there is a misuse of Peter’s Pence funds in the Secretariat of State, or bad accounting, or all of these things, that is a Vatican crime for Vatican people.
But if he has such a clear view of events, and such a wealth of material he claims proves he’s done nothing wrong, why not speak up earlier?
Throughout our conversations, Mincione frequently makes asides, referencing unfavorable, he says unfair, press coverage, including from The Pillar.
You wrote things at the very beginning which really annoyed me. And you followed the story very... I didn't want to go back to read it. Otherwise, I would've been probably upset at this interview and I didn't want to bring up things from the past.
But there was only one version of the story: I am a banker or I work in finance. There is a man dressed in white that says that something went terribly wrong, so I must be guilty. And everybody's been trying to square this whole story since then.
But if he thinks there’s a version of the story that needs to be told, why did he wait so long to tell it? He did, after all, decline numerous interview requests over the last four years.
Mincione says he started off trying to talk to the press, and gave a few interviews, but he felt taken advantage of afterward, that he hadn’t been given space to explain his version of events.
But most importantly, most, most importantly, my lawyers told me not to speak to any more journalists because they perceived that [the prosecutor] Diddi was not looking for the truth. He was looking for something to find me guilty of, or to at least to make me look guilty.
Every time that I would go to a journalist and give papers and evidence, he would change his own line of accusations when I showed he was wrong about something. But now, it is the defense’s time to speak in court and the prosecution cannot make any more changes.
Mincione is clearly looking forward to his day in court in December, when his lawyers will present their closing arguments to the judges.
You're going to see the embarrassment of the prosecutors, I believe, having all these documents line up against a ‘thesis’ of conspiracy. Because that's what Diddi calls it — his ‘thesis.’
A thesis? A thesis? You must have evidence to send people to jail for years and to ask for 500 million euros. But for a thesis? Come on.
I think, and I have said this, the prosecutors don’t even understand the case. They don’t follow the documents, they don’t see the proofs, that’s why it’s all a ‘thesis’ and a mess. Hopefully the judges will understand the facts and the truth.
Win or lose though, for Mincione the consequences have already spread far beyond the Vatican, and well beyond his professional life.
I’m still a Catholic, but I would say that I have strong doubts now about my faith. I know that God exists, but after all I've seen I have doubts about the means we use to communicate with Him. And I'm struggling to convince my daughters to stay Catholic.
Going to Mass, even at our local parish, they made these things impossible for me because I really feel the pressure of the shame that has been put on me. I'm not so cynical that I can just say ‘who cares?’
I do not socialize, I do not go out anymore. I had many incidents with people who are not willing to speak to me ever again because I ‘steal money from the Church.’
I gave money to the school of my daughter for the scholarship fund — they refused it because it could be ‘dirty money.’
My daughters, a lot of their friends talk about how they have a father who is a mafioso because of the stuff in the Sierra bond. I don't even know what it was — I have no involvement with that whatsoever! I made a criminal denunciation about it!
It's difficult. I don't know. I'm not somebody who wants to go around complaining. But my life changed dramatically. And I have changed. I have changed.
I think I was quite a joyful person. Never resentful. But now when I look at others in terms of relationships, whatever, I'm very suspicious.
As we conclude the conversation, Mincione puts in a request.
I would love it if in your article you would ask a few questions for me.
Why have the prosecutors made so many lies about me, and they are lies, when you look at them next to what has been given as evidence?
And why have they refused to face me in court in England? It would be cheaper for them to come to England and face a trial in a country with very strict financial laws, where if you steal money you really go to jail forever.
I keep asking myself those questions.
He has a point about the Vatican ducking the chance to make its case in a UK court. And on the rare occasions in which the Vatican prosecutors’ work has ended up before a London judge, the criticism from the bench has been fierce.
One judge, ruling on a Vatican application for an asset freeze in the UK against Torzi, concluded that Vatican prosecutors had significantly misrepresented their investigation and had even misrepresented the extent of the secretariat’s losses on the Vatican property.
Once the hearings conclude next month, the Vatican judges will have their say, too. For Mincione, that could just as easily end in his vindication, or mark another chapter in his legal purgatory — he insists he will appeal any conviction.
His final days in court could prove decisive.
Mincione insists that he can demonstrate his innocence with paperwork. In his conversations with The Pillar, he was careful to produce documents to back up the claims he made.
During hours of conversation, Mincione offered answers and explanations for every conceivable question that could be put to him about his dealings with the Vatican.
Taking him at his word means accepting a narrative that paints him as first a mark for a group of men around the Secretariat of State, and then an easy target for prosecutors trying to clean up the mess and claw back some money for the Vatican.
It may be as plausible a scenario as any other reading of the events of the last decades.
But it also paints Micione as an almost naive figure, caught up in a web being spun around him while he tried to do a good job for the Church.
It’s hard to reconcile that kind of naivete with an otherwise successful career in the cutthroat world of London finance.
And it points back to the biggest question of them all: Was this the man the Vatican should have trusted with 200 million euros?
Mincione says he’s been an honest broker, and is no crook.
Will a judge believe it? Will prosecutors? Will Pillar readers?
While Mincione waits for a verdict, he is hoping that the answers will be yes.
In fact, he says he won’t take no for an answer:
I will not stop my cases, my appeals. Why should I stop? I am innocent.