Police seize Mincione’s phones in Vatican corruption probe

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Jul 15, 2020 / 09:37 am (CNA).-

Vatican prosecutors, working with Italian authorities, have executed a search and seizure warrant against the Italian businessman Raffaele Mincione, the man responsible for the controversial investment of hundreds of millions of euros on behalf of the Holy See Secretariat of State.

In a seizure carried out on Mincione Wednesday morning at an hotel in Rome, investigators seized electronic devices, including cellular phones and iPads, according to Corriere della Serra.

The search and seizure was authorized by Roman magistrate Maria Teresa Gerace, following a request by the Vatican Promoter of Justice Gian Piero Milano and his deputy Alessandro Diddi. The search was carried out by Italian state police. Corriere reported that Mincione, accompanied by his lawyers, presented himself to police by prior arrangement, after the warrant was issued.

Through a spokesperson, Mincione declined CNA’s request for comment Wednesday.

The seizure of Mincione’s electronics is the latest development in the ongoing investigation into the Secretariat of State’s relationship with the financier, with whom they invested more than $250 million through his Athena Global Opportunities Fund, most notably in a building development at 60 Sloane Ave. in London. The funds included lines of credit extended by two Swiss banks, Credit Suisse and BSI, against other funds under the control of the secretariat.

CNA has previously reported that, in addition to an initial 45% stake in the London building, owned by Mincione, the funds were also invested in other companies and projects owned or connected to Mincione. On June 6, Vatican News described Mincione’s management of Vatican investments as “speculative” and a “conflict of interest.”

According to Athena fund documents filed with the Luxembourg regulator, Mincione allocated millions in assets from a fund in which the Vatican was the sole investor to buy unrated, non-recourse bonds in his personal holding company, Time & Life SA – essentially using Vatican money to make low-interest, no-strings-attached loans to his other ventures. More than 20 million euros of Vatican money from the same fund was also loaned to another Athena investment fund in which Time & Life was invested.

The Vatican cut ties with Mincione in 2018, acquiring the whole of the London property and withdrawing its remaining investment with Athena.

On June 17, Mincione’s company WRM Capinvest filed suit against the Jersey-registered holding company, 60 SA Ltd., according to legal news service Law360.

60 SA Ltd. owns the building at 60 Sloane Avenue, which was acquired by the Secretariat of State from Mincione in stages for some $300 million.

In a separate action, Luxembourg-based Athena Capital Fund SICAV-FIS SCA, a unit of Athena Capital Fund, which is also owned by Mincione, filed a commercial contract claim against the Secretariat of State, Law360 reported this month.

Athena filed the claim together with WRM Capital Asset Management and Mincione personally, the news service reported. It is unclear when that case was filed.

CNA requested an interview with Mincione to discuss the lawsuits, and his relationship with the Vatican. Through a spokesperson, the businessman declined the interview.

Swiss media outlet NZZ am Sonntag has previously reported that tens of millions of euros had been frozen by Swiss authorities in several bank accounts, in cooperation with Vatican investigators looking into the London property deal.

Italian media have reported that the frozen accounts include some belonging to Mincione, who has repeatedly denied any professional wrongdoing in his dealings with the Secretariat of State.

The search and seizure warrant on Mincione comes over a month after Vatican prosecutors arrested another Italian businessman, Gianluigi Torzi.

Torzi was arrested in Vatican City on June 5 for his role in brokering the final part of the secretariat’s acquisition of 60 SA, the holding company which owns the building. Prosecutors have charged Torzi with extortion, embezzlement, aggravated fraud and money laundering.

In May, CNA reported that Fabrizio Tirabassi, a lay secretariat official who oversaw investments, was appointed a director of a company owned by Torzi while the businessman was finalizing the Vatican’s purchase of the London property.

Torzi was released on bail June 15.

Following Torzi’s arrest in June, Mincione distanced himself from Torzi, claiming the two were not personally connected and only linked professionally through the London deal. Mincione has also claimed that Torzi’s involvement as a middle man in the final sale of the building came at the instruction of the Secretariat of State and that he had no involvement in Torzi’s selection.

While denying any personal relationship with Torzi in June, Mincione also claimed to have a photograph of Torzi with Pope Francis. A similar image was subsequently released online.

Vatican action against Mincione is the latest development in a nearly 18-month-long ongoing investigation into financial dealings by the Secretariat of State.

A series of raids by Vatican authorities, beginning in October last year, have resulted in the suspension of several serving and former employees at the secretariat, including Tirabassi, as well as Msgr. Alberto Perlasca, whose home and office were raided earlier this year.

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