Vatican Financial Trial Resumes: Auditor shocked by Misuse of Funds

The Vatican auditor general said he was surprised by the lack of ethical standards demonstrated by officials considering investment opportunities, including a failed London property development deal.

Newsroom (06/10/2022 10:25 PM Gaudium Press) —The trial over the Secretariat of State’s financial scandal resumed Sept. 28 in Vatican City, kicking off the second year of hearings in the case and offering a preview of the prosecution’s witness list.

The beginning of a three-day slate of hearings saw the final appearance of a former senior lay official at the Secretary of State’s investment office and the release of the first group of witnesses to be called by the prosecution.

The court has been in recess since July 2022. In the intervening months, the judges have been considering a list, submitted by prosecutors and lawyers, of proposed witnesses still to be called in the trial, now in its second year.

During the Sept. 28 hearing, the first list of 27 witnesses for the prosecution was released.

Among the first witnesses to be called by the prosecution is Alessandro Cassinis Righini, auditor general of the Vatican.

The Vatican auditor general said he was surprised by the lack of ethical standards demonstrated by officials considering investment opportunities, including a failed London property development deal.

Alessandro Cassinis Righini, auditor general of the Holy See and Vatican City State, criticized the mismanagement of funds and the Vatican’s association with people “with clear conflicts of interest,” which resulted in the loss of millions of euros.

“That was not the way to manage funds from Peter’s Pence,” Cassinis told the court on Sept. 30, referring to the papal fund used for charity and to support the running of the Roman Curia and Vatican embassies around the world.

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When asked by Vatican prosecutors if he was sure that funds from the annual collection were used in the London property deal, Cassinis replied, “Yes.”

Between 2014 and 2018, it is believed the Vatican Secretariat of State invested 200 million euros (more than $240 million at the time) in purchasing the London property. Additionally, payments to brokers and debts collected on the property raised the total investment to 350 million euros.

Cassinis said his office notified Vatican authorities in 2019 regarding discrepancies in the London property deal.

Testifying as one of the prosecution’s 27 witnesses, Cassinis said that in the summer of 2018, he was asked by Pope Francis to conduct a financial review and to deliver a report on his findings to Archbishop Edgar Peña Parra. The latter had just been appointed Vatican substitute secretary for general affairs.

The pope often requested such reviews, he said. But when he began his study, Cassinis “immediately” discovered “some things that were very strange” with the London property deal, including a lack of independent appraisals of the property value, bank statements and balances.

Cassinis also recalled discussions by Vatican officials who considered investing millions of dollars in an offshore oil platform in Angola in 2012.

Although the investment proposal was ultimately rejected, the auditor general said he was “dumbfounded” that it was even considered, since the proposal “was contrary to the environmental criteria contained in ‘Laudato Si’,'” Pope Francis’ encyclical on the environment.

During the court session on Sept. 28, Fabrizio Tirabassi, a former official at the Secretariat of State, was questioned for more than three hours by prosecutors.

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Tirabassi, who is accused of corruption, extortion, embezzlement, fraud and abuse of office, was grilled by Vatican prosecutor Alessandro Diddi about aspects of his and his wife’s personal finances.

Describing the Vatican official’s income as “stable,” Diddi showed the court a 2015 Swiss bank statement of an account under Tirabassi’s name with an estimated 1.3 million euros.

Tirabassi said the money came from Vatican funds he was given power of attorney over beginning in 2004 by Msgr. Gianfranco Piovano, former head of the Secretariat of State’s administrative office.

However, Tirabassi said a power of attorney was withdrawn in 2009 by Msgr. Piovano’s successor, Msgr. Alberto Perlasca.

Tiribassi was also asked about hundreds of thousands of euros in cash stored in shoe boxes, as well as coins, gold, jewelry, and other valuables worth more than 2 million euros hidden in a wardrobe discovered at one of his residences during a search conducted by Vatican investigators together with Italian authorities. Tirabassi said they were the property of his father, who had an interest in rare coins and did not trust banks.

Msgr. Perlasca was initially seen as a possible suspect after Vatican police seized documents, computers and even floppy disks from his home and office in 2020. However, the information he provided voluntarily to prosecutors turned him from suspect into a star witness.

In footage of depositions given by Msgr. Perlasca to investigators, leaked to the media last year, the monsignor mentions that boxes of thousands of gold and silver coins were kept unsecured in the Secretariat of State’s offices after they were discovered in the vaults of the IOR.

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In court documents filed in the UK, another key defendant in the trial, Gianluigi Torzi, accused Tirabassi of threatening him and his family over control of the London building. Torzi also claimed that in the course of their business dealings, Tirabassi offered him prostitutes and boasted of blackmailing senior clergy at the Secretariat of State, including the current and former substitutes Archbishop Peña Parra and Cardinal Angelo Becciu.

The court is scheduled to hear more witness testimonies in the coming weeks, with Vatican police commissioner Stefano De Santis scheduled to take the stand on Oct. 12.

– Raju Hasmukh with files from CNS and The Pillar

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