ROME – While Italian Cardinal Angelo Becciu is the most high-profile defendant among those indicted by Vatican prosecutors over a disputed London real estate deal, a group of four Italian laymen, both inside the Vatican and out, loom as the real architects of the scheme, forming the heart of what one senior Vatican official described as a “rotten and predatory system” within, and around, the Secretariat of State.
These men, as mostly unknown to outsiders as they were powerful on the inside, are Raffaele Mincione, Fabrizio Tirabassi, Gianluigi Torzi, and Enrico Crasso.
According to prosecutors, these four men formed a power center, their own “Gang of Four,” whose allegiances were to one other and to lining their own pockets rather than the good of the institution with whose finances they had been entrusted.
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Tracing the ins and outs of this is an extremely difficult and time-consuming endeavor. Vatican prosecutors tried to spell all of this out in a 400-page explanation of their indictment order, but even that only scratched the surface.
Here’s a nutshell’ version of what the role these four men played in the London affair.
An Italian-born Swiss citizen, Crasso stepped in to assist with the management of the financial resources of the Vatican Secretariat of State in the early 1990s. Now 73, he’s a former manager at Swiss bank Credit Suisse, which served as a banker and financial advisor for the Vatican Secretariat of State, and which also played a hand in directing investments for the London deal.
It was Credit Suisse which advised Holy See officials, including Becciu, to use Mincione’s company to do due diligence on a proposal to invest $200 million in an oil project run by one of Becciu’s former contacts from his time as nuncio to Angola. As part of that due diligence, Mincione advised against the Angola investment and convinced Holy See officials to instead invest in a fund his own company operated, which purchased the shares in the London property.
Crasso is also the manager of the Centurion Global Fund, in which the Holy See is the principal investor, and which is managed by Sogonel, a company he owns.
When Crasso left Credit Suisse in 2014, the Vatican resources the bank managed amounted to 40 million euros. Upon his departure, these funds were handed over to his son, Riccardo, who is an employee of the bank.
In his role at the Vatican, Crasso had broad control over its investment portfolio, allegedly making risky and speculative investments. Several of Crasso’s companies, including HP Finance LLC, Prestige Family Office SA, Sogenel Capital Investment – likely his money-moving entities – have also been indicted for fraud, not only for the London deal but other alleged irregularities.
As part of their inquiry into the London incident, investigators discovered that Crasso once secured a 7-million-euro Vatican bond investment by pitching a falsified proposal to invest in a highway construction project in North Carolina, while the money was actually used to fund an equity stake in three Italian companies.
The companies involved in that transaction involve HP finance, a US-based company that Crasso owns which he never disclosed to Vatican officials, and which has also been indicted for fraud.
However, it was through Sogenel, a company he founded, that Crasso managed the Centurion Global Fund in which the Vatican invested tens of millions of euros, including money from the Peter’s Pence Fund, at the time overseen by Italian Monsignor Alberto Perlasca.
The Centurion fund was used to finance a number of questionable investments for an institution such as the Holy See, including several Hollywood films, such as Rocketman, the Elton John biopic.
In addition to being the point of contact with Mincione, Crasso is also reportedly the one who introduced the Vatican to Gianluigi Torzi, another Italian financier who acted as a middleman for the purchase of the remaining shares of the building and was later arrested for money laundering and extortion.
An Italian lay businessman who also had a hand in managing the Secretariat of State’s finances, is another insider with ties to both Mincione and Torzi.
In total, Tirabassi managed more than $700 million in investments for the Secretariat of State, which included proceeds from the charitable “Peter’s Pence” fund.
According to corporate filings, Tirabassi was appointed in November 2018, just after the London property deal began to go south and Torzi was brought in to orchestrate the Vatican’s exit, as director of Gutt SA, a company owned by Torzi and which is registered in Luxembourg.
While he was working as an investment manager in the Vatican Secretariat of State, Tirabassi also reportedly held a contract with Swiss bank UBS, which allegedly paid him a .5 percent commission on every Vatican deposit, and for each deposit by new clients recruited by Tirabassi.
That deal dates back to at least 2004 and remained intact until Tirabassi was suspended from his Vatican post in 2019 amid the unfolding London property scandal.
As part of their query, investigators found an account at UBS in Tirabassi’s name which contained around $1.2 million, despite the fact that Tirabassi’s Vatican salary was just $3,000 a month, equating to roughly $36,000 a year.
Mincione’s own relationship with the Secretariat of State dates back to 2014, when, under Becciu’s direction, the Vatican enlisted his company’s help for due diligence on the Angola proposal.
That money was instead invested into Mincione’s Athena Global Opportunities Fund. The money for that $200 million investment came in part from two Swiss banks, BSI and Credit Suisse, where Crasso was a former manager.
Mincione invested those Vatican funds in a 45 percent stake in a former Harrod’s warehouse in London’s upscale Chelsea neighborhood, which was set to be converted into luxury apartments, as well as other ventures either owned by or connected to himself.
In June 2018, Micione also invested some 10 million euros of Vatican funds in Sierra One SpV, a bond product that was packaged and sold by Sunset Enterprise Ltd., a company then under Torzi’s control.
That same year, facing enormous losses on the London property in the wake of Brexit, the Holy See dropped Mincione and enlisted Torzi to craft their exit from the deal.
However, under the terms of the separation agreement, overseen by Torzi, the Secretariat of State attempted to purchase the remaining share of the London building, giving up its remaining investment in the Athena Global Opportunities Fund, and reportedly paying an additional 40 million euros to Mincione through Athena for those shares. It was Torzi who arranged that payout.
Torzi was brought into the Vatican scene in November 2018 when the London property deal went south and was enlisted as a commission-earning broker who got a 10-million-euro payout for his role in the affair.
Amid the crafting and execution of this exit strategy, Torzi also had connections to a British-Italian architect who in 2019 was named a director of a UK-registered holding company owned by the Secretariat of State, and which controls the London property the Vatican had invested in.
That architect had previously served as a director of several companies where Torzi also served as a director, or in which Torzi and his companies had financial interest.
Torzi is accused of pulling a fast one on Vatican officials by secretly restructuring shares in the London property’s holding company so that he had full voting rights. He then apparently extorted the Vatican for 15 million euros to gain control of the building they thought was already under their control.
According to the Associated Press, Holy See officials, after realizing that Torzi actually controlled the building, opted to pay him off for his voting shares on grounds that suing him would be a drawn-out process which could eventually play out in his favor.
Amid the Vatican investigation into the London affair, Torzi was arrested by UK police in May, who carried out a request from Italian authorities. He was indicted by the Vatican in July.
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