Pope Francis backed controversial London investment deal, lawyer for Cardinal Becciù’s ex-secretary claims
ROME, Italy, November 5, 2020 (LifeSiteNews) — The lawyer for a curial official caught up in a Vatican financial scandal has stated that Pope Francis himself backed a controversial investment deal.
Salvino Mondello, representing Cardinal Becciù’s former secretary Monsignor Mauro Carlino, wrote a letter to La Stampa, an Italian newspaper, stating that negotiations with financier Gianluigi Torzi over investments in a luxury apartment development scheme on London’s Sloane Avenue had the “backing” of Pope Francis.
In addition, Mondello stated that the pontiff had also agreed to the figure Torzi requested as his compensation for handing over his management of the property to the Vatican: the equivalent of 20 million euros (approx. 23,665, 000 U.S.). The letter was published in La Stampa today.
According to Catholic News Agency (CNA), the Secretariat of State invested “hundreds of millions of dollars” into the 60 Sloan Avenue development. CNA alleges that the scheme was arranged and managed through a “network” of people and businesses linked to “criminal investigations for fraud and money laundering.” It reported that the Secretariat bought the building “in stages between 2014 and 2018 from Italian businessman Raffaele Mincione, who at the time was managing hundreds of millions of euros of secretariat funds.”
Some of the funds used in the London investment came from charitable donations collected from Catholics all over the world. Others were borrowed from a Swiss bank that CNA says is “controversial” and “known for violating safeguards against money laundering and fraud.” CNA also alleges that the Secretariat tried to disguise these loans in a way that violated “Vatican transparency regulations.”
Last October, Vatican police raided the offices of the“First Section” of the Secretariat of State; they had been in the care of Pena Parra since October 2018. CNA reported that five people had been suspended as a result of the raids “including two Secretariate employees listed as directors for London 60 SA Ltd” which manages the London investment.
In June 2020, Torzi was arrested by Vatican police “on suspicion of extortion, embezzlement, aggravated fraud and money laundering,” the Financial Times reported. The businessman’s Italian lawyers said that he was innocent of any crime.
Today the Vatican announced that Pope Francis has transferred responsibility for the property from the Vatican’s Secretariat of State. The announcement included an instruction from Francis that the Vatican “exit as soon as possible” from the London investments, “or at least dispose of them in such a way as to eliminate all reputational risks.”
Mondello says he wrote the letter alleging Pope Francis’ backing of the deal because he believes that Monsignor Carlino, Cardinal Becciù’s secretary at the time of the London deal, has been unfairly called “one of the protagonists of the scandal” in the newspaper last month.
“[Carlino’s] intervention in the affair was extremely limited in time (from February to May in 2019) and achieved the specific purpose it was aimed at, safeguarding the economic interests of the Holy See,” Mondello stated.
“In fact, the Substitute of the Secretary of State [Edgar Pena Perra] involved Monsignor Carlino only after the London property had been bought by Gutt, the Luxemburg business managed by Giancarlo Torzi.”
Although the Vatican’s Secretariat of State had owned the vast majority of shares of Gutt—30,000— and Torzi had only 1,000, the Secretariat initially did not have the right to vote, whereas Torzi did, the lawyer revealed. In fact, Torzi had full control over both Gutt and the management of the London building before the Secretariat of State bought him out.
All Carlino had been charged to do was talk to Torzi about fulfilling the latter’s agreement that he would transfer management of the property to the Secretariat of State. Meanwhile, Mondello added, Pope Francis knew all about it.
“As also came out during the investigation conducted by the Promotor of Justice of the Holy See, the need for negotiations with Torzi had already been decided with the backing of the Holy Father, and furthermore the fee for the transaction had already been stipulated as 20 million euros,” he wrote.
Mondello said that Carlino had reached an agreement with Torzi under the guidance of the Secretariat’s Substitute Archbishop Edgar Pena Parra and working with experts and a top English law firm, Mishcon de Reya. Mischon de Reya also, Mondello pointed out, acts for the Queen of England. Meanwhile, the agreement between the Holy See and Torzi was drawn up by Mishcon de Reya.
The lawyer argued that the monsignor had, in fact, served the Holy See well in the exchange.
“The agreement came to fruition on May 2, 2020, with the transfer of Torzi’s 1,000 Gutt shares and the right to vote from Torzi to the Secretariat of State, and Monsignor Carlino is to thank for having reduced Torzi’s compensation to 15 million euros, with a savings of 5 million euros,” Mondello wrote.
The lawyer also pointed a finger at the Director of the Vatican Bank, Gianfranco Mammì, suggesting that the executive made up a scandal when there wasn’t one.
“The presence of a possible ‘scandal’ relating to the London building was emphasized by the director of the Vatican Bank, Mr. Mammì,” Mondello wrote.
“[Mammì,] despite having more than once assured the Superiors that he was ready to finance the Secretariat of State for the repayment of a mortgage that weighed on the asset, made a complaint in July 2019, stating that the request for financing seemed opaque and airing a series of hypotheses about crime which, he said, would have prevented it.”
Meanwhile, Modello added, the mortgage has been paid off by another Vatican department, the Administration of the Patrimony of the Holy See (APSA) “after a series of checks and verifications performed by international law firms of undeniable prestige and great professionalism, that have evidently found no economic or judicial illegalities in the transaction.”
The lawyer ended his letter by underscoring that Monsignor Carlino’s work had been “honest, correct, and transparent.”
The claim that Pope Francis knew about the London property deal has surfaced as an alleged victim of Vatican corruption, the widow of the former dean of the ambassador corps to the Vatican, Martha Alegría Reichmann, has announced the forthcoming publication in English of her book about the corruption of Pope Francis' top lieutenant, Cardinal Óscar Rodríguez Maradiaga.
Alegría Reichman's book, Sacred Betrayals, seeks to expose both Maradiaga's financial and moral corruption, as well as Pope Francis' coverups and protection afforded to the cardinal, who was recently reconfirmed as the coordinator of the Pope's elite Council of Cardinal Advisers.