Cardinal Giovanni Angelo Becciu, center, in 2015. Credit: Alan Holdren/CNA.
Cardinal Angelo Becciu has said that the arrest of a businessman at the center of a Vatican property deal will have no wider repercussions and that business in the Vatican “will continue as before.”
Commenting on the June 5 arrest of Gianluigi Torzi, the former sostituto at the Secretariat of State said that he did not know the Italian businessman charged by Vatican prosecutors with fraud, extortion, money laundering and other crimes. Becciu also defended the investment of hundreds of millions of euros in the London property at 60 Sloane Avenue and said it still represented good value for money.
“I don’t know Torzi, I was no longer sostituto when the facts that are attributed [Torzi] happened,” Becciu told Adnkronos after the announcement of Torzi’s arrest.
Before he was made a cardinal in June 2018, Becciu was the second-ranking official at the Vatican Secretariat of State, which invested hundreds of millions of euros in the London property between 2014-2018. Torzi acted as a broker, a commission-earning middleman, for the Secretariat of State as it finalized the purchase in 2018 and 2019.
The Adnkronos report offers Becciu’s account of his role at the Vatican. Becciu insists that Torzi’s involvement in the project came after the cardinal had become head of the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints in the summer of 2018, but that the original investment in the building was a sound decision.
“Are you sure that that building was a waste? But there has been no doubt that if sold now it would make double what it cost – 148 million euros when I was there, if there were other [additional expenses] then ask who made them, I was no longer there.”
On Saturday, the cardinal dismissed the idea that Torzi’s arrest would cause a broader “earthquake” in the curia, calling it “a journalistic fantasy.”
Becciu’s interview concluded with his declaration that “[Torzi] will have to answer for a specific crime for which he alone is responsible. And the Vatican will continue as before.”
CNA has reported that between 2014 and 2018, the Secretariat of State paid around $300 million for the building, bought from Italian businessman Raffaele Mincione. Mincione arranged the secretariat’s initial investment through an investment fund through which he managed hundreds of millions of euros for the Secretariat of State.
Completion of the sale was conducted through Gutt SA, a Luxembourg-registered holding company owned by Torzi.
According to a press statement from the Holy See, Torzi was arrested Friday in connection with “well-known events connected with the sale of the London property on Sloane Avenue, which involved a network of companies in which some officials of the Secretariat of State were present.”
In May, CNA reported that in November 2018, a lay official at the Secretariat of State was made a director of Gutt, for a period of one month. That official, Fabrizio Tirabassi, was suspended from his position in October 2019, following a raid by Vatican investigators.
In his statements to Adnkronos over the weekend, Becciu repeated previous denials that the investment used funds from Peter’s Pence, a fund of donations sent to the Holy See by Catholics and dioceses around the world to support the ministry of the pope.
On Saturday, Vatican News reported that the investments made by the secretariat in Mincione’s Athena Global Opportunities Fund amounted to 200 million euros. It reports Mincione invested this money in the building, which he owned, and other ventures of Mincione’s, which it described to be a “conflict of interest.”
On Nov. 4, 2019, CNA reported that in 2015 Cardinal Becciu seems to have attempted to obscure on Vatican balance sheets nearly 200 million in loans connected to the transaction by cancelling them out against the value of the property in London, an accounting manoeuvre prohibited by financial policies approved by Pope Francis in 2014.
That apparent attempt to obscure the loans was detected by the Prefecture for the Economy, then led by Cardinal George Pell. Senior officials at the Prefecture for the Economy told CNA in 2019 that Becciu told Pell the cardinal was “interfering in sovereign business” by looking into the secretariat’s dealings with Swiss bank BSI.
BSI was closed by Swiss banking authorities in 2017, following an investigation which found systematic violations of anti-money laundering protections.
On Saturday, Becciu said that Torzi’s involvement in the London property deal came only after he had left the secretariat.
In May, CNA reported that Swiss authorities had frozen tens of millions of euros in several bank accounts as part of the Vatican’s investigation into the deal.
On June 6, the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera reported that among the funds frozen were several million under the control of Msgr. Alberto Perlasca.
Perlasca served under Becciu for nearly a decade as head of the administrative office of the secretariat’s First Section until July 2019, when he was transferred to the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura, the Holy See’s supreme court. Perlasca worked as a prosecutor at the court, until his office and home were raided by investigators in February.
In an interview with the newspaper Il Giornale on Monday, Perlasca denied that he had any Swiss bank accounts and is “ready to sue anyone who claims otherwise.”
Perlasca said that “there was considerable confusion, I hope not knowingly, between personal accounts and accounts of the Secretariat of State, on which, however, I had no signature power since only the superiors had it. I only had the power to sign in conjunction with another superior. I don’t remember ever having to use it, because there never was a need. In other words: I couldn’t move a single cent.”
Perlasca said he personally lodged a complaint against Torzi in 2018, alleging fraud by the businessman.
Corriere also reported that accounts belonging to Mincione have been seized by Swiss authorities as part of the investigation, as well as those under the control of Enrico Crasso, who has also managed Holy See investments through the Centurion Global Fund.
Crasso told Corriere that the accounts relevant to him were only under his management and not personal accounts. Previously, CNA reported on Centurion’s connections to several institutions subject to allegations of money laundering.
On Saturday, Mincione denied any relationship to Torzi beyond working with him as the secretariat’s chosen intermediary for the completion of the property purchase.
In an interview with Adnkronos, Mincione said that apart from knowing Torzi slightly as a social acquaintance, his contact with him was limited to Torzi’s mandate to act on behalf of the secretariat, given by Archbishop Edgar Peña Parra, who replaced Becciu as sostituto in 2018.
Mincione insisted in the interview that his dealings with the secretariat were all legitimate and that the Holy See could still realize a profit on the London property.
Mincione also appeared to imply that responsibility for Torzi’s involvement could ultimately lay with Pope Francis, saying “there is a picture of Torzi with the pope, which I have. [Torzi] was given this job by Peña Parra, [who was himself] appointed by the pope.” It is unclear why or how Mincione would have a photo of Torzi with the pope, especially if the two businessmen were not close.
CNA has previously reported that Torzi, along with his family, was received in a private audience with Pope Francis on December 26, 2018. Repeated requests, over several months, to the Holy See asking how the meeting was arranged have gone unanswered.
On the same day as Mincione’s interview with Adnkronos, a picture apparently showing Torzi and his wife with Pope Francis began circulating online.
Perlasca told Il Giornale that “It seems very bad to call the Holy Father directly into this matter.”
“I know that, at the end of December 2018, there was a meeting with him, to which however no representative of the Administrative Office was invited,” Perlasca said.