Vatican official accused of perjury in $378M real estate lawsuit

Vatican City

After being sentenced by Vatican State Court for embezzlement and fraud, London-based Italian banker Raffaele Mincione is fighting back in UK courts with a countersuit accusing the Vatican of mishandling and mis-documenting funds.

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Pope Francis’s Chief of Staff, Archbishop Edgar Peña Parra, is coming under fire for allegedly giving false testimony about a $378 million (€350 million) real estate investment deal gone wrong.

According to reports from Bloomberg UK and the Financial Times on Friday, Peña Parra allegedly gave conflicting details about invoices related to the Vatican’s four-year, $378 million investment in a former Harrods warehouse in Chelsea. The Holy See — the title for the universal government of the Catholic Church — made the investment through London-based Italian banker Raffaele Mincione’s fund.

Mincione said the Vatican’s investment would be used to redevelop the warehouse into a luxury residential development. However, when the Vatican bought into the project in 2014, Mincione hadn’t received approval from the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea’s planning board.

Issues with the deal continued to grow, the reports said, as the Vatican decided to make a series of payments totaling $19.2 million (£15 million) to Italian businessman Gianluigi Torzi to buy the voting shares that gave him ultimate control of the former Harrods warehouse.

Although they gained majority ownership, the Vatican ultimately decided to sell the building to Bain Capital in 2022 for $235 million (£186 million)—a loss of nearly $150 million.

The Vatican State Court brought embezzlement and fraud charges in July 2021 against seven defendants, including Mincione, Torzi and former Cardinal Giovanni Angelo Becciu, who oversaw the deal as the head of general administration, for their role in the deal. In December 2023, Mincione and Becciu were given five-and-a-half-year jail sentences.

However, Mincione has been able to avoid beginning his sentence, giving him time to file a countersuit in UK courts that asserts he acted “in good faith” throughout the four-year ordeal.

“God was not with them, and COVID arrived,” Mincione said, noting that a COVID-induced economic slump ultimately thwarted the Vatican’s investment. “I look forward to these issues being examined by an independent and internationally respected judicial system.”

Mincione’s lawyer, Charles Samek, pointed to Peña Parra’s answers about the payments to Torzi to stoke doubts about the Vatican’s credibility and financial stewardship, as the failed deal led the Vatican to overhaul its financial operations. Samek said the Vatican’s charges against Mincione constitute an “incoherent and confused allegation of conspiracy.”

Samek grilled Peña Parra about a $6.4 million (£5 million) payment to Torzi that wasn’t appropriately documented in “information notes” given to Vatican officials. Peña Parra said the information notes weren’t meant to be “an all-encompassing” record and that he gave Pope Francis regular updates about the investment once he took former Cardinal Becciu’s role in October 2018.

“I see the Holy Father every Tuesday,” he said.

Regarding the validity of the payments, Peña Parra said the Vatican was “trapped” and doing its best to find a way out of the troubled deal.

The case is ongoing.

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