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Banker says he warned Vatican about London fund investors

VATICAN CITY – The Vatican’s longtime investment banker testified Monday that he had repeatedly raised concerns about a fund that invested in a troubled property in London, but said the Holy See’s Secretariat of State insisted on going ahead with the deal even if he lost money.

Enrico Crasso said he was very much on the sidelines of the London deal, which is at the heart of the Vatican’s major fraud and embezzlement case. Prosecutors have accused Crasso and nine others of shrinking the Holy See by tens of millions of euros and eventually blackmailing the Vatican for 15 million euros to gain control of the property.

Crasso, who headed the secretariat of state investments at Credit Suisse and his own companies for 27 years, is accused of multiple counts of embezzlement, corruption, fraud and extortion. Crasso denies wrongdoing and testified Monday that the investments he has managed have always paid off in his more than quarter-century of service to the Holy See.

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On his first day on the stand, Crasso stressed that he was only accidentally drawn into the London deal after being asked by the Secretary of State to help it evaluate ways to diversify its wealth portfolio in 2012, initially towards a potential one Oil development deal in Angola and then the property in London.

Crasso said Credit Suisse recommended a commodities expert, Raffaele Mincione, to assess the Angola deal. After all sides agreed against it, Mincione stayed on as the new asset manager for the Vatican through his Athena mutual fund, which invested in the London property.

Crasso referred to a formal statement by Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin in 2016, which clarified that there were no limits to where Credit Suisse assets could be invested. Crasso’s defense has cited the letter to refute the embezzlement allegation that Crasso diverted Vatican funds earmarked for charitable causes into highly speculative investments.

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Crasso testified that he was essentially paused after the Vatican began working with Mincione, citing a series of emails he sent to Vatican officials expressing concern and confusion about some of Minciones expressed investment decisions.

By 2018, the Vatican decided to exit Mincione’s funds because he had lost around €18 million and was looking for a way to buy him out of the London property. Enter another accused, Gianluigi Torzi, who was suggested by a friend of Pope Francis’s as a potential manager and developer for the property.

The deal included paying Mincione €40 million and entering into an agreement with Torzi for a new holding company, Gutt, to manage and develop the property. The deal, in which the Vatican held 30,000 shares in Gutt and Torzi 1,000 shares, was negotiated over three days in Torzi’s London office in November 2018.

Crasso said he attended the meetings but had no real reason to be there as the negotiations were being conducted by the Vatican’s two top internal money managers.

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Unbeknownst to the Vatican at the time, Torzi structured Gutt’s shares so that his 1,000 shares were the only ones with voting rights, meaning he controlled the building and the Vatican owned virtually nothing.

According to earlier statements, Francis and the Vatican decided not to sue Torzi for alleged fraud and agreed to pay him 15 million euros to finally gain control of the property – a payoff Vatican prosecutors say tantamount to blackmail.

Crasso said prosecutors’ allegation that he was involved in the alleged extortion was not logical given that he first met Torzi just days before the November 2018 meetings.

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https://www.local10.com/business/2022/05/30/banker-says-he-warned-vatican-about-london-fund-investor/ Banker says he warned Vatican about London fund investors

Sarah Y. Kim

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