Spies like us: Claims of bugging, hidden cameras, Italian intelligence links among London deal key players
News: Vatican finance trial
A businessman tied to the Vatican’s London property deal admitted to prosecutors that he spied on behalf of the Vatican on a broker involved in the deal, and passed information on to an official at the Vatican Secretariat of State.
The spying admission emerged in newly released recordings of interviews conducted by Vatican prosecutors in the financial crimes trial, in which 10 figures connected to the property deal have been indicted.
The recordings also allege other efforts at suspect intelligence-gathering by figures involved in the deal, and highlight Cardinal Angelo Becciu’s alleged efforts to conceal Vatican payments to Cecilia Marogna, a woman described as the cardinal’s “private spy.”
Testimony that Vatican officials engaged in corporate espionage sheds new light on the breakdown of the London property deal, which cost the Holy See more than 100 million euros and led to the landmark trial currently underway in Vatican City.
During an April 2021 interview with Vatican investigators, Luciano Capaldo, a property developer who was closely involved in the Secretariat’s plans for the London building at 60 Sloane Avenue, explained that he had agreed to help officials at the Secretariat of State spy on Gianluigi Torzi, the broker engaged by the secretariat to finalize the purchase of the building from Raffaele Mincione in 2018.
Capaldo told investigators that he had access for a period of time to surveillance cameras inside Torzi’s offices, and passed information and images to Monsignor Mauro Carlino, a former official at the Secretariat of State currently indicted for extortion and abuse of office.
The access, Capaldo said, came via a mobile phone app for which he had the login details.
Capaldo can be seen in a video interview, published over the weekend by the newspaper Corriere della Sera, identifying photos which he says were “taken from the cameras that are inside Torzi's office.”
Asked why he was in possession of surveillance footage from inside Torzi’s office, he responded that he had the photos “because they were required.”
“Required by whom?” investigators can be heard asking.
“By the Secretariat of State,” Capaldo replies, “by Monsignor Carlino in particular. Because perhaps they already had doubts about Torzi. They already had doubts ... They were trying to negotiate the operation with Torzi, trying to end it.”
Capaldo told investigators that he lost access to the video feed after a falling out with Torzi.
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Torzi was arrested in June 2020 over his alleged extortion of the Secretariat of State for 15 million euros, after he restructured the shares of his holding company, Gutt SA, to retain control of a London building after it was purchased on the Vatican’s behalf at a total cost of nearly 350 million euros.
Separate to the charges Torzi faces in the Vatican, he is also facing extradition to Italy on related charges of fraud and tax evasion. Italian prosecutors allege that Torzi passed some of the money supposedly extorted from the Vatican to Capaldo after he received it from the Secretariat of State.
When he was questioned by investigators last year, Capaldo also recounted that he put Carlino in touch with an “IT security expert” he knew, after Carlino expressed concern that he was under electronic surveillance.
"I have problems with the computer, I think that someone has interfered with my mail and my mobile phone, I'm a little worried,” Capaldo remembered Carlino saying.
Several days after Capaldo put Carlino in touch with the “security expert” identified only as “Gianni” in the tape, the priest sent Capaldo the number of a director of the IOR, the Vatican bank which flagged loan applications from the Secretariat of State, triggering the investigation into the London deal in 2019.
“You can pass this phone number to Gianni,” Carlino allegedly told Capaldo.
Capaldo speculated to investigators that Carlino may have thought he was being tapped by IOR officials.
Capaldo’s cooperation with the efforts of Vatican officials to spy on Torzi sheds new light on a question that has remained murky throughout the Vatican’s involvement with the London property purchase: Why he was left in a position of influence over the building project, even after Torzi’s 2020 arrest.
Months after several secretariat officials, including Carlino, were removed from the board of the London registered holding company through which the Vatican controlled the building, Capaldo remained as the only listed director, giving him effective sole control over the company.
The newly released tapes also include a Vatican interview of Marco Simeon, a layman known in the Italian press as “Becciu’s lobbyist” because of his ties to the disgraced cardinal, who served for nearly a decade as sostituto at the Secretariat of State, effectively the papal chief of staff.
The interview includes Simeon’s account of Torzi’s efforts to spy on businessmen involved in the London property deal, and even to convince Italian intelligence officials to given them information on two Vatican employees and on Cardinal Angelo Becciu.
Simeon, together with Becciu, helped front a group offering to buy the London building back from the Secretariat as the Vatican investigation gathered steam, allegedly as a means of shutting down prosecutors’ efforts to file charges.
During an August 2020 interview, Simeon asked prosecutors if he could talk with them about an allegation he said he had heard about Torzi — one which “left me perplexed,” he explained.
“Off the record,” Simeon said in English, before explaining that, “since I also have fairly good relations with the world of Italian intelligence…Mr. Torzi intervened with an officer who is part of a service, and told him he wanted information on a certain Crasso, a certain Simeon, a certain Becciu…”
“I’m sorry, what?” the investigator can be heard saying.
“Torzi moved last week to ask for information through a ... an [intelligence] officer… to ask for information about me, Becciu, Crasso and - it seems - Tirabassi, understand? When the person asked him ‘Why do you want to know?’ he replied ‘Because I work for the Holy Father.’ I was very perplexed.”
Simeon said the while he had heard the account of Torzi angling for information from Italian intelligence agencies secondhand, he was “perplexed” enough about the whole thing to raise it with prosecutors.
The reference to “a certain Crasso” likely refers to Enrico Crasso, a former investment manager for the Secretariat of State who, among other business ventures, induced the Secretariat of State to invest in the Elton John biopic Rocketman and in a supposed highway development in North Carolina which did not exist.
The tapes also contain an interview with Msgr. Alberto Perlasca, once the deputy of Cardinal Becciu — and point to Becciu’s suspect payments from Vatican accounts to his “private spy” Cecilia Marogna, who is also on trial.
In an interview published Jan. 29, Perlasca can be heard recounting a discussion he had with Becciu about the testimony he had already given to prosecutors — including prosecutors’ questions about Becciu’s payments to Marogna.
“When you reported to Cardinal Becciu the magistrates' questions regarding these transfers to Signora Marogna, what did the cardinal tell you?” Perlasca was asked on the tape.
“The cardinal told me that the 500,000 we gave was more of a ‘contribution,’ because [Marogna’s] request was much higher, it was millions ... it was millions, it was three or four million, something like that,” Perlasca told investigators.
“I said [to Becciu] ‘Look, but how long and for what did we give her this money?’ ‘Eeeeeeh! We can talk about that in four or five years,’ he told me.”
Among other crimes, Becciu has been charged with attempting to compel Perlasca to commit perjury by recanting testimony regarding the cardinal’s financial affairs, especially concerning the suspect payments to Marogna.
Perlasca was asked by prosecutors whether, during the meeting with Becciu at a fashionable Roman restaurant, either he or the cardinal had expressed concern that they might be being recorded by Vatican investigators. “Ah, ah! Yes, yes!” Perlasca responded.
“Nothing was done, mind you,” the Vatican investigator can be heard telling Perlasca. “That is, we do not go to do any kind of activity in Italy.”
The Vatican trial is set to resume on February 18.
Editor’s Note: This article as originally published stated that the Vatican trial is set to resume on February 28. The Pillar regrets the typo.