Lawyers for the businessman who sold a London building to the Secretariat of State accused Vatican prosecutors of living in a “parallel reality” Monday, during the financial trial’s 80th and penultimate hearing.
The legal team for Raffaele Mincione, the Anglo-Italian investment manager, told judges in the landmark trial that the prosecution’s case was “warped from its birth” to try to prove a grand conspiracy hypothesized by Alessandro Diddi, the Vatican City’s promoter of justice.
“There is a conviction, and the material that has been acquired is oriented to confirm that prejudice,” Mincione’s lawyers argued Dec. 4.
“The truth of the facts, the documentary evidence, has been bent on one person’s convictions.”
The trial, due to hold its final hearing later this week before the judges retire to consider a verdict due in 10 days time, is now in its third year, having begun in July 2021 when prosecutors deposited a 500 page indictment charging 10 individuals with a host of financial crimes.
Mincione is charged with abuse of office, embezzlement, and fraud in the case. But, his lawyers argued Monday, prosecutors had failed to acknowledge or account for the terms of the contracts agreed between Mincione and the Vatican when he agreed to manage some 200 million euros for the Secretariat of State.
“The truth has been bent to a goal: the promoter of justice has built a sort of parallel reality, a place where the facts can be represented in a way exclusively functional to the objectives of the prosecution,” they argued. “A bubble in which it can be absolutely normal not to talk about contracts, never, even with the quotation of a single clause.”
Mincione was approached by Vatican investment advisors in 2013 to manage money originally intended to be invested in an oil development project in the African nation of Angola, a project reportedly backed by Cardinal Angelo Becciu, also on trial.
After that deal proved to be unsound, Mincione was asked to create an investment portfolio for the Vatican which became the Athena Global Opportunities Fund. That fund was meant to invest the Vatican’s money for a set period of years but, in 2018, the Secretariat of State demanded early withdrawal from the fund, triggering considerable financial penalties.
As part of the terms of separation, the Vatican paid millions in penalties, forfeited the balance of their investment with Mincione, and acquired sole ownership of the Athena fund’s main asset — a London building at 60 Sloane Ave.
Mincione has previously argued in court that the Vatican’s losses on the deal, which have amounted to more than 100 million euros, are a result of its own decision to force early withdrawal from the fund, and the timing of that decision relative to both the UK’s decision to leave the European Union, and the COVID pandemic, both of which depressed the London real estate market.
In 2019, a criminal investigation was triggered after Vatican banking officials flagged a demand from the Secretariat of State for a 150 million euro loan to refinance a mortgage attached to the building.
From that initial complaint, Vatican investigators were authorized by Pope Francis to examine the Secretariat of State’s financial dealings. The result was a sweeping indictment, charging several curial officials and external consultants with a host of alleged financial crimes, most of which are unrelated to Mincione’s business with the Vatican.
During the hearing Dec. 4, Mincione’s lawyers also called into question the decision by Vatican prosecutors to bring charges against their client but not to call key witnesses or to charge the Swiss bank which acted as custodian of the Vatican’s money and advised on its investments.
Defending against charges that he engaged in speculative and self-interested investments with the Vatican’s money, Mincione’s team produced paperwork in which the Secretariat of State described its investment outlook as “not contrary to risk” and with a “long horizon.”
The lawyers summed up by claiming that the prosecution had “told us three things that were not true first of all that the Secretariat of State had never made investments in complex or risky financial instruments, that the same [department] had no experience [of such deals], and, finally, that it had no debts.”
In a lengthy interview with The Pillar, published last month, Mincione detailed his version of his business dealings with the Secretariat of State, and offered documents he said show that had the Vatican would have realized a profit, had it abided by the terms of the original investment.
He also dismissed the prosecution’s allegation that he is part of a years’ long, highly coordinated effort to defraud the Vatican in concert with curial officials and other advisors.
Mincione described officials at the Secretariat of State as “a bunch of incompetents who got together to create a gigantic mess.”
“Is there maybe criminal activity? I believe that there is, yes,” Mincione told The Pillar. “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.”
Judges in the Vatican City trial have indicated that they will present their verdict on or around Dec. 16.
In the event that he is convicted on any of the charges, Mincione has said he will appeal.