Vatican Trial: Anti-Corruption Authority Hearing

October 03, 2022
Mr. Alessandro Cassinis Righini, Auditor General

On September 30, 2022, the court presided over by Judge Giuseppe Pignatone heard a member of the Anti-Corruption Authority, chaired by the Auditor General assisted by Auditors. This entity, created in February 2014, is responsible for carrying out an accounting and financial audit of Vatican accounts. In February 2019, the position was upgraded to the rank of Anti-Corruption Authority.

It is the Auditor General, Alessandro Cassinis Righini who testified. His testimony is damning in more ways than one.

A very uncooperative Secretariat of State

“Answers that are often evasive and a closed and uncooperative general attitude”: this is the picture of the relationship with the Secretariat of State offered by the Reviser General, Alessandro Cassinis Righini, during his interrogation as the second witness of the prosecution, during the twenty-seventh hearing of the trial for the alleged illicit trafficking of funds of the Holy See.

Cassinis produced the 2019 report which, together with that of the Religious Works Institute, triggered the investigation that led to the trial. The witness worked for years at this checkpoint.

The Reviser strongly denounces the resistance of the Secretariat of State: requests for documentation, expert reports, assessments of the dicastery have remained unanswered. Or when they deign to give one, it takes the form of: “The less you write about budgets, the better,” as Msgr. Alberto Perlasca once said.

The Reviser continued his litany of refusals: whether it is Msgr. Edgar Peña, substitute who replaced Cardinal Becciu, or Councilor Borgia, there is never a response.

And when the then Prefect of the Secretariat for the Economy, Cardinal George Pell, signed a contract with an external financial consultancy, Price Waterhouse Cooper (PWC), to carry out an audit of all the dicasteries of the Curia, Becciu opposed it, explaining that there was an internal auditor: why hire an external company to audit the accounts of the State?

In this regard, Mr. Cassinis quoted a phrase from the substitute at the time: “We are used to checking, not to being checked.”

The pledge agreement with Credit Suisse

One of the main points concerning the lawsuit is the “pledge contract” with Credit Suisse on the assets of the Secretariat of State - for a total amount of 928 million euros, according to him - which has never been provided. This is the transaction by which the dicastery, by pledging part of its assets, obtained the necessary resources to proceed with the purchase of the London Palace.

According to Cassinis Righini: “All this did not make sense to us, we could not understand… The money was being used … for speculative products, and there was a blatant conflict of interest with the person who had suggested these investments.”

“This is no way to manage Peter’s Pence!”

The Auditor General again accuses the Secretariat of State of opacity, in particular – he gives the very precise date of November 26, 2018 – when he was presented with the letter by which Cardinal Parolin would have authorized the transfer of the contract from the Athena-Gof fund of Raffaele Mincione to the Gutt fund of Gianluigi Torz (both brokers, both defendants).

At first, he claimed that the first investment “generated constant losses.” As for the transfer, he claims to have “fallen out of his chair,” trying to warn of the danger, because Torzi retained a thousand voting shares in order to maintain sole control of the property. Which ended up costing the Holy See 15 million euros to regain ownership of the London Palace.

“It was suggested that it would be unacceptable not to execute the agreement, instead it was signed on December 3 as planned. I didn't understand why it was so rushed.”

Unethical investments

During the interrogation Cassinis Righini also expressed criticism of investments or investment projects of the Secretary of State whose ethics were questionable. Starting with the well-known proposal for the oil well in Angola, despite “the known ethical and environmental positions of the Pope.”

Mr. Cassinis also cited APSA hedge funds on products “not in conformity with the social doctrine of the Church, such as manufacturers of contraceptives. We had reported it to APSA who, in fact, then proceeded to sell the shares.” Moreover, these securities “did not have a transparent quotation on the market” and “commissions were paid” in hedge funds.

A lack of competence

The problem, according to the Reviewer, was a problem of “competence”: within the administrative office, in addition to the lack of personnel, as Perlasca and his replacements had complained, there was “above all a problem of competence,” because many people lacked accounting skills. It was a disaster… We couldn’t understand anything.”

A tableau that confirms what Cardinal Pell said at the time, and which may weigh heavily before the judges at the time of the assessment.