The Royal Court of Justice in London The Royal Court of Justice in London 

Archbishop Peña Parra misled about London contracts

During the second hearing at London’s High Court of Justice concerning the Sloane Avenue property affair, the focus is again on dealings with the broker Gianluigi Torzi. Archbishop Edgar Peña Parra reiterates that he would never have ratified the agreements with financier Raffaele Mincione and Torzi had he been properly informed.

By Salvatore Cernuzio - London 

"Your Honour, from that moment our decision, our will was to get out of this situation. I knew it and everyone involved knew it... the 5 million was part of the tricky things, but we were forced to do it, for what? For freedom, to be free from these people, to finally be free. That’s the point. We had no other choice. Even the Holy Father told me to try to lose as little as possible and turn the page."


Relations with the broker, Gianluigi Torzi, and other figures described as "wolves in sheep's clothing" that orbited around the Vatican were central in the second interrogation of Archbishop Edgar Peña Parra, Substitute of the Secretariat of State. The all-day interrogation took place at the High Court of Justice in London, As in the first hearing yesterday, the interrogation was led by Raffaele Mincione’s lawyer, Charles Samek, whose legal action initiated the ongoing civil trial that began on June 24. Like at Thursday's hearing, there was little mention of transactions with Mincione, manager of the fund that held the Sloane Avenue property. Instead, the focus was primarily on dealings with Torzi (convicted in the first instance by a Vatican court), to whose Gutt fund the management of the building had passed thanks to an agreement granting the broker a thousand shares with voting rights, thus total control of the property. Archbishop Peña Parra described it as a "trap," which forced the Holy See, after a series of pressures and even threats from Torzi (such as selling the property to third parties or using its revenues to fund his companies), to pay the 15 million euros he demanded to end all relations. The payment was made in two instalments of 10 and 5 million, certified with invoices demanded by Torzi, partly referring to "consultations" that were never rendered.

Forced to Pay

In a more extended timeframe, Archbishop Peña Parra was able to better define the details of these operations that took place during the months of negotiations with the broker between late 2018 and early 2019, as well as the climate of pressure from being, according to Vatican judges, victims of a crime. "The 15 million should never, never have been paid," the archbishop stressed. "We had already carried out another transaction of 40 million to be free, and after that, in December, I found myself in the same position with Torzi, the thousand shares, the WRM (Mincione's company, theoretically ousted from the deal following a 2018 agreement) managing the building, and us continuing to pay 6 million a year. We were forced to pay and everyone in the Vatican knew and supported me in this."

Negotiations with Torzi 

During the lengthy hearing – from 10:30 to 16:30, with a break – much time was spent discussing why negotiations with Torzi moved from an initial proposal to settle with 1 or 2 million euros ("even those were too much") to 9 million, and finally to the 15 million paid. According to Archbishop Peña Parra, the 9 million figure emerged after a meeting at the Bvlgari Hotel with the broker, Fabrizio Tirabassi and Enrico Crasso (respectively an employee and a consultant of the Secretariat of State, both convicted in the first instance). The archbishop said he learned about this meeting days later. It is known, from what emerged in the Vatican trial, that Torzi demanded up to 25 million euros for his management work and lost future earnings. Msgr Mauro Carlino (the only one of the ten defendants in the Vatican trial to be acquitted) was sent to mediate with the broker.

Informing the superiors

Regarding the contracts with Mincione and Torzi in November 2018, the Substitute of the Secretariat of State was repeatedly asked if he had informed his superiors, namely the Pope and the Cardinal Secretary of State, Pietro Parolin, of his actions, seemingly to test his loyalty and reliability. The archbishop confirmed that he always informed Pope Francis and Cardinal Parolin of every action in advance; for example, when he decided to contact the Auditor General, Alessandro Cassinis Righini, on Saturday, November 24, 2018, for an opinion on the contracts for the London property, particularly the framework agreement marking the transition from the Gof fund (Mincione) to the Gutt fund(Torzi).

Auditor General's opinion

"I would like to emphasize," said the prelate from the witness stand, "that it was the first time a Substitute consulted the auditor general. It was not a tradition of the Secretariat of State, which has its autonomy. But despite that, I wanted to be sure of what we were doing. I had been in office for a month, still figuring out where my chair was... I took an extraordinary action that was certainly not a joy for the Administrative Office."

Cassinis Righini responded to the Substitute on Monday, November 26, with a letter. The Pope and Cardinal Parolin were aware of this decision to consult "competent persons," but the response from Cassinis was not sent to them: "No," Archbishop Peña Parra explained, "because it was addressed to me, not to them. I was the only one involved; I am the Substitute. And I was alone in this operation..."

Second document never received

Mincione's lawyer pointed out that there was a second response from the auditor, one that strongly advised against proceeding with the transactions. “Why did the Substitute not heed this advice?” Archbishop Peña Parra's reply was direct: "I never received this document. I saw it during the Vatican trial." Sent to the Secretariat of State, it reached some desks but not the Substitute's. "Had I received indications recommending against the operation, it would have been the best gift because I would have had the authority to say not to proceed," the witness said. "I'm sorry I didn't see this document because otherwise, I wouldn't be here."

Squillace‘s role

Among a myriad of documents and names – all previously mentioned in the 86 Vatican trial hearings – Friday's session recalled the role of lawyer Nicola Squillace. Introduced to the archbishop as a lawyer for the Secretariat of State, with a group of collaborators who had been working with him for 10 to 30 years, Peña Parra also asked him for an opinion on these "thousand shares with voting rights." What did they mean? It would take another month before the Secretariat of State learned from consultant Luciano Capaldo that the contracts stipulated in November with Mincione and Torzi, both signed by Msgr. Alberto Perlasca ("without authorization"), had led to the acquisition of "empty shells." This prompted the Pope to summon the Substitute to a meeting at Santa Marta, also attended by lawyers Manuele Intendente and Giuseppe Milanese, to clarify the situation. That was when Archbishop Peña Parra realized that the situation was out of control.

“Back then, Squillace,” Peña Parra recalled on Friday in Courtroom 19 of the High Court, "reaffirmed that the thousand shares were only to allow Gutt to enter the building's administration." After these reassurances, the Substitute ratified Msgr. Perlasca's signature. "I, just arrived, tried to do my best to have a clear picture of what was happening in the Secretariat of State. Nothing more than necessary..."

IOR financing

During the hearing, the issue of the 150 million requested by Archbishop Peña Parra to the IOR to renegotiate the onerous Cheyne Capital mortgage taken out by Mincione for the London property was addressed. An 'internal' move to avoid the Holy See continuing to lose almost a million a month. The Institute for the Works of Religion (IOR) initially guaranteed the loan only to back out after a few months. This left the Substitute surprised: "Why the delay?" Even the director (Gian Franco Mammì) had assured him that everything was ready. Instead of the loan, a complaint from the IOR arrived, sparking investigations into this complex affair that bounced from Rome to London.

Peña Parra was asked if it was true that after the refusal, he turned to people close to the Italian Secret Services to monitor the IOR director, even through phone taps. The phone had nothing to do with it, the witness clarified: "I asked the head of the Gendarmerie to have a clear map of all the companies and entities involved with us during that period. I wanted to prevent dealing with such people in the future."

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05 July 2024, 20:25