117 million euros: that’s pretty much what the Holy See risks losing in the conclusion of the London chapter of the financial soap opera that has seen Cardinal Becciu appear in Vatican court for several months.
Farewell calf, cow, pig… According to the Financial Times of November 7, 2021, the Vatican is finalizing, with losses and crashes, the sale of real estate located in the Kensington district of London, United Kingdom, for the sum of 232 million euros.
The Sloane Avenue building in Kensington was first bought for € 140 million in 2012 by investment manager Raffaele Mincione. The latter offered the Vatican the opportunity to invest in this luxurious property, and in 2014, the secretariat of state injected € 200 million into the Athena Global Opportunities Investment Fund led by Mincione.
In addition, Raffaele Mincione pushed the Holy See to invest in a series of dubious projects: in June 2020, the official Roman site Vatican News even denounced “conflicts of interest” in the management of the nefarious Italian businessman.
The businessman is currently suing the Secretary of State in a British court for defamation, and he has filed a lawsuit against La Reppublica about his media coverage: a decision is expected by the end of 2021.
When the Vatican decided to separate from Mincione in 2018, it lost all its investments and paid an additional € 40 million to get out of the Athena fund in exchange for full control of the London building, which came with a € 150 million mortgage.
The debt was refinanced by the Institute of Roman Works (IOR), the Vatican bank. A request made by Cardinal Pietro Parolin in person, who asked the president of the Vatican bank to extend to him “the high priority needs of the Holy See.”
In July 2019, Gianfranco Mammi, Director General of the IOR, complained to the Holy See’s financial supervisory authority, denouncing the “opacity” of the Secretary of State’s request. A complaint that sparked a two-year investigation that led to the indictment of ten people, including Cardinal Angelo Becciu, in July 2020, for fraud, money laundering, and abuse of power.
Finally, the loans used for the Vatican's initial participation in the Athena fund were secured against other assets of the Holy See, then controlled by the Secretariat of State, thus evading the supervision of the Secretariat for the Economy, led at that time by a certain Cardinal George Pell.
After the first heated hearings that had revealed procedural errors and threatened the conduct of the trial, it resumed and held a fourth hearing on November 17, after completing the request of the accused: to provide the defense with the entire dossier of charges.
The next day was again marked by a clash between the defense and the prosecution, the first highlighting cuts in audio-video equipment handed over to the defense, implying the nullity of the trial.
The Promoter of Justice explained these cuts were due to the secrecy of the investigation, as new evidence was discovered during the proceedings. The court scheduled a hearing on Dec. 1, but Judge Pignatone said the defense “should be fully aware of the acts.”
An astonishing counterattack by Cardinal Becciu
While in Ozieri, Sardinia, his home diocese, Cardinal Becciu spoke at the Caritas diocesan conference on “Poverty and Social Exclusion.”
Among the accusations against the fallen cardinal, he is accused of having authorized the financing – up to 600,000 euros for the Holy See and 225,000 for the Conference of Bishops of Italy - of his brother's cooperative in Ozieri, through the local Caritas. Amounts that would not have been used appropriately.
Far from rejecting the accusation, the cardinal started: “Proud, proud, happy to have helped you. Where is the scandal?” The tone is set. The prelate will defend his record.
“The little I was able to do,” he said, “worked wonderfully: so why create scandals? Why massacre me, my family, and this diocese? The media mud that has been created has led to humiliation for all of you, and I deeply regret it,” he continued.
Then he comes to the heart of the matter: “I have been accused of favoring my diocese: it's true, and what's scandalous about it? I did it as a nuncio in Angola and Cuba, why not here? They slandered my family, my brother [Tonino, editor's note] and all of you, but a trial is underway in which I am going to defend myself and show that it is nothing but calumny.”
The former influential member of the Curia thus unveils his defense plan: to recognize the financial facts, but to cover them with the good carried out, and to accept a little nepotism in the process.