The Court of Appeal for England and Wales has ruled that a lawsuit brought against the Vatican Secretariat of State by its former investment manager can continue, even while the plaintiff is under a criminal trial in Vatican City.
Raffaele Mincione first filed suit against the Vatican state department in June 2020, petitioning the High Court of England and Wales for declaratory relief against the Secretariat of State, and asking judges to rule he “acted in good faith” in his dealings with the Vatican, managing hundreds of millions of euros in investments for the secretariat over a period of years and selling them a London building at 60 Sloane Ave. in 2018.
In a decision issued July 26 but first reported Saturday by The Daily Telegraph newspaper, the Lords Justice Jackson, Males and Birss found that Mincione had brought a “justiciable” claim against the Vatican and has “genuine wish to obtain public vindication.”
Mincione’s lawyers argue that the Holy See is trying to nullify the sale of the building at 60 Sloane Ave., for which the Vatican paid a total of 350 million euros and sold at a loss of more than 100 million.
At the time Mincione filed the suit, official Vatican media described his management of investments for the Secretariat of State as “speculative” and a “conflict of interest.”
The purchase of the London building from Mincione by the Secretariat of State triggered a papally-authorized Vatican investigation which lasted two years, and which led to the charging of 10 individuals, including Mincione, with financial crimes in Vatican City.
After he was questioned by Vatican prosecutors on several occasions, and was twice the subject of Vatican-ordered search and seizure warrants, Mincione was formally charged in July last year with embezzlement, fraud, and self-laundering.
In a previous UK court hearing in November, 2021, Judge Simon Salzedo ruled that the Mincione’s lawsuit “should be stayed until there is a material change of circumstances,” effectively halting the case until the resolution of the Vatican’s own criminal process against the businessman.
“The substance of the matter is that there is a criminal investigation with which a competent criminal court is seised and the matters alleged against Mr Mincione and others will have obvious knock-on effects” on the case, Salzedo found.
The ruling on July 26 followed an appeal of that decision by Mincione’s UK legal team and means the lawsuit can now go ahead as a parallel process to the Vatican trial. The Secretariat of State was denied leave to appeal the decision to the Supreme Court and also ordered to pay £200,000 in legal fees for the appeals process.
Mincione told the Vatican City court in June that his reputation as a finance and investment manager has been unjustly harmed by the Vatican investigation and prosecution, and he had been “insulted during the [legal] proceedings and flayed in the newspapers as a criminal."
He has repeatedly asserted that he acted in good faith in all his dealings with the Holy See and has brought legal claims against the Vatican’s actions against him both in the UK and Switzerland. Mincione has also issued lawsuits against various media outlets for libel over their reporting of his business dealings.
The investment manager’s relationship with the Secretariat of State dates back to 2014, when the curial department, under the direction of then-Archbishop Angelo Becciu — also on trial in Vatican City — invested some 200 million euros in Mincione’s Athena Global Opportunities Fund.
Previous reporting has established that the Vatican investment came from lines of credit extended by two Swiss banks, BSI and Credit Suisse, against other Vatican funds held on deposit.
Mincione invested Vatican funds in a 45% stake in the London building, which was owned by another of his companies, as well as in other ventures owned by or connected to him.
After Becciu’s departure from the secretariat in 2018, the Holy See separated itself from Mincione, incurring steep financial penalties for early withdrawal of its investments. Mincione said Monday that had the Vatican seen out the term of their original investment until 2021, their returns would have been “very positive.”
Under the terms of the separation agreement, the Secretariat of State purchased the remaining share of the London building, gave up its remaining investment in the Athena Global Opportunities Fund, and reportedly paid an additional 40 million euros to Mincione through Athena, and assumed a 150 million euro mortgage on the property. The building was then sold for a loss of more than 100 million euros.
Mincione also told the Vatican court in June that the Secretariat of State understood the terms of the Athena Global Opportunities Fund at the time it invested in it, and that he had balanced the fund’s investment portfolio to minimize risk.
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.
At the center of the Vatican trial, and the charges against Mincione, is his relationship with Gianluigi Torzi, the broker appointed by the Secretariat of State to complete the purchase of the London building from Mincione on their behalf.
In the process of conveying ownership of the building to the Vatican, Torzi created a separate, controlling, minority class of shares in the holding company which owned the building — passing the majority non-voting shares to the Vatican but retaining the controlling shares and with it effective control of the building. Torzi is accused of then blackmailing the Holy See for more than 10 million euros for control of their own building. In the current trial, he faces charges of a range of financial crimes, including money laundering and extortion.
Although Mincione has in the past downplayed his relationship with Torzi, describing them simply as “two Italians living in London,” in court on Monday he conceded that Torzi was “a person I knew and with whom I had made some deals before,” but insisted that he played no role in recommending him to the Vatican to represent their interests and that he was “a complete stranger" to “all the subsequent events between Torzi and the Secretariat of State.”
The Pillar has previously reported that during the period of years the Secretariat of State invested in the Athena Global Opportunities Fund, 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,
Mincione has said that it was only after he was told that Torzi had been deputized by the Secretariat of State that he discovered his involvement in the project, saying that Torzi had “for years” had an interest in the London building project.
“[Torzi said] he would be the new manager of the real estate project,” Mincione told the court. “He also told me that if I did not agree to sell the property, the Vatican would create many problems for me.”
The Vatican trial is ongoing, with hearings set to resume in September.
Editor’s note: This post has been updated to include details of the decision and a link to the full text.