In the case of the questionable Sloane Avenue real estate transaction involving several officials of the Holy See, a British magistrate has just issued findings that contradict the investigation carried out by the Vatican justice system.
It all started in 2012 at the premises of Credit Suisse in London, where a representative of the Holy See’s Secretariat of State and an Italian financier, Raffaele Mincione, met.
The latter advised: “Do not invest in an oil project in Africa, but in luxury real estate in London.” This advice would be followed up two years later, in 2014.
By then, a transfer of 150 million euros was made from the accounts of Credit Suisse and Banca della Svizzera Italiana (BSI) of Lugano to the holding company of Raffaele Mincione, making it possible to invest in a building in an upscale district of the British capital at 60 Sloane Avenue.
By the way, Raffaele Mincione and several of his associates, including businessman Gianluigi Torzi, collected hefty fees.
In Vatican City, we should remember, with Monsieur de La Fontaine, that the advisers are not the payers. Over the months, the investments in London - due to the devaluation of the pound, the economic crisis linked to the Covid 19, and the uncertainty surrounding Brexit - have suffered many losses, and that includes the Vatican in particular.
Thus, the Sloane Avenue building may have lost the Holy See a tidy sum - between 73 and 166 million euros - if we are to believe the statement of Msgr. Nunzio Galantino, director of the Heritage Administration of the apostolic see (APSA), in an interview with the Italian daily L'Avvenire on November 2, 2020.
Vatican justice is not to be outdone: on June 5, 2020, the magistrates of the smallest state in the world arrested Gianluigi Torzi, accusing him of having extorted the funds that allowed the purchase of 60 Sloane Avenue, taking advantage of the alleged “incompetence” of Msgr. Alberto Perlasca, former head of the first section of the Secretariat of State, a man of Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, who was formerly the number two man in the Vatican during Benedict XVI’s reign.
The magistrates are also seeking British justice to investigate the English side of the case to secure the seizure of Mr. Torzi's accounts. But there’s a twist: On March 24, the Corriere della Sera reported that the judge in charge the case in the British Southwark Prosecutor’s Office said that officials of the Secretary of State were not deceived by a questionable real estate transaction.
“The inaccuracies by the Holy See in this matter are appalling,” Tony Baumgartner wrote in his report. He does not “consider there is reasonable cause to believe that Mr. Torzi has benefited from criminal conduct.”
In the 42-page ruling that has been released, the Southwark magistrate relies on, among other things, a note dated November 25, 2018 signed by Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin.
The number two man in the Vatican approved the real estate transaction at the heart of the matter: “Having read this memorandum, and in light of the explanations provided last night by Msgr. Perlasca and Fabrizio Tirabassi; after being reassured about the validity of the transaction (which would bring benefits to the Holy See), its transparency and the absence of reputational risks […], I am in favor of concluding the contract. Thank you. P. Parolin.”
Either way, Tony Baumgartner’s decision is yet another setback for the Pope, who has made the fight against corruption one of the salient objectives of his pontificate.