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Mincione battles Vatican state and Italian press in UK courts

Lawyers for both the Vatican Secretariat of State and an Italian news publisher have fired back in court, against the investment manager who sold the Holy See the London building at the center of ongoing Vatican financial scandal.

Raffaele Mincione remains embroiled in multiple court cases, in several jurisdictions, as he attempts to clear his name over accusations of fraud, money laundering, and other allegations over his dealings with the Vatican.

Raffaele Mincione. Pillar file photo.

In a UK court, Mincione is asking judges to rule that he acted in good faith in all his dealing with the Holy See, and arguing that the criminal charges he faces in Vatican City are an attempt to undo a legitimate business deal, in which he’s done nothing wrong. 

In a witness statement filed last month at the Court of Appeals for England and Wales, Fr. Carlos Fernando Diaz Paniagua, a canon lawyer speaking for the Secretariat of State, argued that the Vatican could not be compelled to turn over internal communications between the Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, and the sostituto at the department, Archbishop Edgar Peña Parra, because of the limits of pontifical secrecy.

Arguing that communications between the cardinal and archbishop constituted state secrets, Diaz Paniagua told the court in March that it would be a “grave sin” for the Vatican to turn over messages sent between the two via encrypted messaging apps like Signal, WhatsApp, and Telegram. 

“Public officials of the Holy See and the Vatican City make a solemn oath not to reveal matters under the pontifical secret regardless of any grave or urgent considerations or the need to protect the common good,” said Diaz Paniagua.

The priest also told the court that the Holy See had already turned over thousands of documents to Mincione’s lawyers in the case and claimed that Parolin’s “peripheral involvement” in the London property deal made any further disclosures unnecessary.

Despite the secretariat’s contention that Parolin played only a “peripheral” role in the London deal, documents filed in a separate UK court case in 2021 appear to show the cardinal personally signed off on the details of the London deal which allowed the businessman Gianluigi Torzi to allegedly hold the building hostage during the transfer of ownership from Mincione.

Once the deal was completed, Parolin also wrote to the president of the IOR, Vatican City’s commercial and retail bank, and pressured him to approve a 150 million euro loan to refinance a high interest mortgage his department had acquired along with the building

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Mincione and Torzi are currently on trial in Vatican City over their roles in the London property deal, which saw the Vatican acquire a London building at 60 Sloane Ave. for a total cost of 350 million euros.

Mincione is suing the Secretariat of State in the UK, asking the court to rule he acted in “good faith” in his dealing with the secretariat. After he initially took legal action in 2021, a UK judge blocked Mincione’s suit until the criminal trial in Vatican City had resolved. 

That decision was reversed in August last year.

The Anglo-Italian financier is one of ten defendants charged with a range of financial crimes by the Vatican City’s Office of the Promoter of Justice. The businessman was formally charged with embezzlement, abuse of office, fraud, and money laundering in 2021.

The Secretariat of State acquired the London building from Mincione as part of the terms of its early withdrawal from Mincione’s Athena Global Opportunities investment fund. Previous reporting has demonstrated that Mincione invested millions of Vatican funds into his own companies and speculative investment projects, including the London building, which he owned through a series of nesting holding companies in the Channel Islands.

Previous reporting has also demonstrated close financial links between Mincione and Torzi, the businessman chosen by the secretariat to broker its acquisition of the building from Mincione. Torzi is also charged in the Vatican City trial, and accused of extorting the Vatican for millions for control of the building.

The Pillar has previously reported that Mincione invested Vatican money in debt products marketed by Torzi, some with links to mafia-affiliated companies. Mincione invested Vatican money into one such debt product called Sierra One bond, which was managed by a Torzi associate, Giacomo Capizzi, who was also included in the Italian court order on Monday. 

Torzi, in turn, used his companies to lend Mincione tens of millions of euros during the same period.

In a separate legal action, Mincione is also suing the Italian publisher GEDI Group, which publishes the newspaper La Repubblica and the magazine L’Espresso, for defamation over its coverage of the London deal.

Mincione is seeking damages over coverage by the GEDI group’s publications which suggested the businessman knowingly acted to defraud the Vatican over the building at 60 Sloane Ave., and participated in the diversion of some 100 million euros of Church funds earmarked for charitable purposes in accounts like Peter’s Pence.

In October last year, another Italian publisher, RCS Media, reached a settlement with Mincione for an undisclosed sum in a similar suit concerning its coverage of the same story. 

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However, in a filing on March 16, GEDI’s lawyers said it would be defending its coverage as substantially true, that there are “very strong grounds" to accuse Mincione of embezzlement and fraud, and that the facts made them “strongly suspect” he played a part in orchestrating a complicated fraud.

A spokesperson for Mincione told legal press that GEDI’s decision to argue the truth of their coverage was “extraordinary” given the settlement by settling RCA “has already admitted broadly the same allegations were defamatory of Mr. Mincione.”

Mincione has insisted that had the Vatican abided by the terms of its original investment with him, it would have made money. Instead, the London building was sold last year for a loss of more than 100 million euros.

The suggestion that Mincione and others, including Vatican officials, conspired to divert Church funds meant for charitable purposes relates to allegations that the Vatican’s original investment of 200 million euros in Mincione’s Athena fund was, in part, financed with money taken from Peter’s Pence and private papal accounts for the pope’s own charitable giving. 

While some media outlets have reported that funds were directly transferred from these accounts to stake the investment, The Pillar has reported that that the money invested by the Secretariat of State was loaned by Swiss banks, with the Vatican using as collateral other Vatican funds and assets held on deposit with the same banks, including charitable funds like Peter’s Pence. 

The Pillar has also previously reported that this method was used to help disguise the existence of the loans and the investments on internal Vatican balance sheets, a practice prohibited by under norms issued by Pope Francis.

In addition to his suits against the Secretariat of State and GEDI in London, in Luxembourg Mincione is also suing Credit Suisse, one of the banks used by the Secretariat of State, alleging that “failed to divulge crucial information about the origin of the money which they used to subscribe to the WRM Group sub-fund, in order to cover up the exact origin of the funds.”

Last month, it was announced that UBS had agreed to buy Credit Suisse for some $3 billion, in a deal brokered by the Swiss government after the share price of Credit Suisse collapsed.

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