200 witnesses to testify in ‘Vatican Process of a Century’ on financial scandals

VATICAN CITY (RNS) – Earlier this month, Giuseppe Pignatone, one of the judges overseeing the Vatican’s “trial of a century” on corruption and money laundering by Catholic Church officials, joke that he hopes the procedure ends in 2050.

At least it was thought to be a joke: at Wednesday’s hearing, the judges announced that the prosecutor intends to call more than 200 witnesses in a process that has taken almost a year to get through 10 suspects.

The trial began in July 2021 with suspicions questioned by Vatican prosecutors, judges and the lawyers of other suspects.

At the heart of the matter is the controversial purchase by the Secretariat of State of the Vatican of a property at 60 Sloane Ave. in London, which, according to Vatican prosecutors, cost the church 350 million euros (about $ 370 million), drawn in part from donations to a papal charity called Peter’s Pence.

So far, the process has put a spotlight on turf wars and rivalries among members of the Vatican branches and offices that make up the Roman Curia. The hearing on Wednesday (June 22) focused on the role played by the fund managers and advisers overseeing the Vatican’s investment portfolio.

Enrico Crasso, a former employee of the bank Credit Suisse that has served the Holy Sea as an investment manager for 26 years, answered questions at the trial for the second time on Wednesday and declared his innocence. He is accused of abuse, corruption, extortion, money laundering, fraud, abuse of office and various types of forgery.

“Eleven charges are not bad,” Crasso said. “I hope this court wants to assess my activity as a manager and not put me in a position to pay for the activities of others (suspects).”

At his previous hearing, on 30 May, Crasso had said he had been sidelined by the Vatican in 2014 when he chose to invest in the fund of Raffaele Mincione, Athena, who owned the London property. Mincione is also accused of fraud and persecution for allegedly draining profits from the investment through fees and commissions.

Proceedings in the Vatican Finance Procedure on May 20, 2022. Photo by Vatican Media

Proceedings in the Vatican Finance Procedure on May 20, 2022. Photo by Vatican Media

Crasso questioned Mincione’s management of the fund, claiming that the financier used the Vatican’s money to pay for his takeover of the troubled Italian bank Carige. Crasso said he told the secretariat that the cost of the Mincione fund was too high.

Crasso said he officially broke up with Mincione in 2016, more than two years after he first introduced himself to Vatican staff to invest in an oil operation in Angola, an idea that was scrapped in favor of ‘ the London Property Agreement.

Crasso told the judges his role was to act as a “bulwark in defending the State Secretariat’s liquidity, and not a tool to defraud anyone.”

Crasso said he was present at some of the most important meetings that laid out the London property deal; he said he was “always called upon by Fabrizio Tirabassi”, who is handling the finances of the State Secretariat and another suspect in the process.

“I never had formal assignments” from the State Secretariat, Crasso said.

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The management of the London property was eventually transferred to another Italian fund manager, Gianluigi Torzi, who assured the State Secretariat that he could persuade Mincione to hand over the property. Crasso said he was recalled into the deal by the secretariat to oversee the transition as a representative of Credit Suisse.

In November 2018, Torzi gave up the majority of the fund’s shares over that property of the London property, but retained 1,000 voting shares that hold control of the immovable property in his hands. Vatican prosecutors have accused Torzi of persistence, fraud and money laundering, claiming that he extorted $ 15 million from the secretariat to give up the vote.

Crasso acknowledged that he was present at the signing of the deal in London, but denied that he knew anything about Torzi’s voting shares. Attending the meeting was “a huge mistake,” Crasso said, adding that a State Secretariat official, Monsignor Alberto Perlasca, asked him to attend.

Initially investigated by Vatican prosecutors, Perlasca is now a star witness in the proceedings.

Vatican judges set the next trial date for July 7, when they will question the remaining suspects and begin the task of questioning the various witnesses before the tribunal goes on summer vacation.

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