Vatican Finance Trial Resumes with Witnesses Giving Testimony

 Vatican trial, the auditor general Cassinis Righini speaks.
The second witness to the prosecution told of his difficulties in finding the documentation on the investments managed by the Secretariat of State
Vatican News, by Salvatore Cernuzio, in Vatican City, reports that often there were evasive answers and overall a closed, poorly cooperative attitude. It is the portrait of the relationship with the Secretariat of State offered today by the auditor general, Alessandro Cassinis Righini, during the interrogation as second witness of the prosecution in the twenty-seventh hearing of the Vatican trial for alleged wrongdoing with funds from the Holy See.
Reviewer questioned
In less than two hours, in the Hall of the Vatican Museums, the auditor - questioned by Roberto Zannotti, in place of the Promotor of Justice, Alessandro Diddi - described with a critical tone the action in the financial field of the important Dicastery, in particular of the 'Administrative office, during the years in which he worked in the Auditor's Office, first as a deputy, then as interim auditor, finally from 2021 with a formal appointment. The Office is one of the three economic bodies, together with the Council for the Economy and the Secretariat for the Economy, the result of the work of the dissolved Cosea. From it, in 2019, the report that, together with that of the IOR, started the investigation that led to the trial.
The complaint of 2019
What constituted the news criminis has been discussed several times today in the courtroom. The complaint, Cassinis explained, was the result of months spent asking the Secretariat of State for documentation, appraisals and budgets, without ever obtaining an answer. Or to be told: "The less we write about the budgets, the better", as Monsignor Alberto Perlasca, then head of the Administrative Office, once did during a meeting.
More in detail, the auditor returned to the summer of 2018 when the Pope himself entrusted him with the task of carrying out a specific revision of the Dicastery, in view of the change in leadership of the first section. Angelo Becciu, created cardinal, left the role of substitute to become prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints. On 15 October 2018, Venezuelan archbishop Edgar Peña Parra took his place. For the latter, the Pope wanted the reviewer to take "a photograph of the existing". Practice that Pope Francis, Cassinis explained, "has always followed whenever there has been a change at the top of other institutions, such as the APSA or Propaganda Fide".
Never any answer
While waiting for the new replacement, the auditor interfaced with Councilor Borgia: "We started the activities that immediately showed some things that seemed very strange". “We kept asking for an account of some choices, some documents, without receiving an answer”, explained the witness: “Were there no appraisals for the valuation of properties? Never provided. Were we asking for letters of circularization with Swiss banks? Never give. The budgets? Neither. We found many budgets used to reconstruct the picture by querying the national and international chambers of commerce ”.
The pledge agreement with Credit Suisse
Above all, the witness said, the "pledge agreement" with Credit Suisse was never provided on the assets of the Secretariat of State (equal, he said, to a total of 928 million euros). That is, it is the operation with which the Dicastery, by pledging part of his assets, obtained the resources to proceed with the purchase of the London Palace. According to Cassinis Righini, the money committed was 516 million, but the figure of 564 million was always mentioned during the hearing. "This whole picture did not return to us, we could not understand ... The money was mostly engaged in non-liquid assets, with speculative products, in clear conflict of interest with those who had suggested these investments". That is, Enrico Crasso, a contact for Credit Suisse Italy for decades and at the same time financial advisor to the Dicastery since the 1990s, also a defendant.
"It was evident that this was not the most appropriate way to manage the money from the Pence of St. Peter," said the auditor general. Still on the London deal, he revealed that he had expressed doubts as early as November 26, 2018, when he was submitted the letter with which Parolin allegedly authorized to proceed with the stipulation of the contract to move from Raffaele Mincione's Gof fund to Gianluigi Torzi's Gutt ( the two brokers, both defendants). The latter retained a thousand shares with voting rights to maintain exclusive control of the property. Already then, Cassinis assured, it was reported that Torzi would have made this move, which - as is well known - cost the Holy See 15 million to reacquire ownership of the Palace. "It was inadmissible, it was suggested not to execute the agreement, instead it was closed on December 3 in that way. I don't understand why with that haste ”.
The PWC review
Cassinis Righini said he encountered the same ambiguous attitude when the then prefect of the Secretariat for the Economy, Cardinal George Pell, signed a contract with an external financial consultancy firm, Price Waterhouse Cooper (PWC), to carry out an audit of all the Departments of the Curia. It was Becciu, according to his reconstruction, who opposed by explaining that there was an internal auditor, so why hire an external company to check the state accounts? In this regard, Cassinis quoted a sentence from the then substitute: "We are used to controlling, not being controlled". However, a contract had been signed with the PWC; the company continued its activities but the accounting audit of the Secretariat of State was drawn up by the auditor's office. To these expressions concerning the cardinal, the lawyer Fabio Viglione replied, recalling that in 2016 the Pope, precisely following the controversy over PWC, had signed a Rescript delivered to the Secretary of State, Pietro Parolin, in which he reiterated the full financial autonomy of the Dicastery. “Several Rescritti have been shot, I don't remember this one”, the witness replied.
Unethical investments
During the interrogation - not only that of Zannotti but also of the plaintiffs and defenders - Cassinis Righini then expressed his criticisms of investments or investment projects of the Secretariat of State of dubious ethics. Beginning with the well-known proposal for the oil well in Angola, despite “the well-known environmental ethical positions of the Pope”. Cassinis also cited APSA hedge funds on products "not in line with the Social Doctrine of the Church, as manufacturers of contraceptives. We had reported this to APSA which in fact then proceeded to sell the holdings ". Moreover, all these securities "did not have a transparent market price" and "more commissions were paid" to "viscous" funds. The problem, according to the auditor, was also one of "competence": in the Administrative Office, in addition to the lack of staff, as Perlasca and the substitutes complained, there was "above all a problem of skills because many people did not have accounting. It was a disaster… You couldn't understand anything ”.
Equity of 928 million euros
A final mention, by the witness, to the 928 million euros that up to 2018 would have constituted the total assets of the Secretariat of State. Figure calculated in a reporting package that each Curia Dicastery is obliged to draw up and send to the Secretariat for the Economy to draw up the general budget. Of these, 750 million had been paid into banking institutions outside the Vatican, in particular into Swiss banks, in particular Credit Suisse. "Why?" Asked some lawyers. Cassinis Righini said he didn't know why. Just as he said he did not know if "the supreme authority", that is the Pope, was aware of all this: "Becciu certainly yes. I don't believe the Holy Father ”.
The next hearings
At the end of the hearing - opened with the second part of the interrogation to the consultant of the Promoter of Justice, Roberto Lolato, heard yesterday - the president of the Vatican Tribunal, Giuseppe Pignatone, listed the dates of the next hearings. Five are scheduled for October: 12, 13, 14 and then 19 and 21. For November 10, 11, 23, 24, 25, 30 are set; on December 1, 2, 15 and 16. All the witnesses to the prosecution will be heard, currently about 41. The interrogation of the director of the IOR, Gian Franco Mammì, scheduled for today, is not scheduled for now. In all these dates, Pignatone said, “we need to place Perlasca somewhere. It will certainly be a long interrogation ”.
Source: Vatican News Italian