Instead, the contracts negotiated at the time transferred control of the London property to an Italian estate agent, Gianluigi Torzi, who was unknown to the Vatican just a month earlier but came in because he was recommended by acquaintances of Pope Francis.
The perfect storm of incompetence, alleged criminality and blind faith in people portrayed as friends of Francis are at the heart of the Vatican’s grand fraud and embezzlement process. Vatican prosecutors have accused 10 people, including Tirabassi, of exposing the Holy See for tens of millions of euros, and Torzi of subsequently extorting the Vatican for 15 million euros to take full ownership of the property. They all deny that they did anything wrong.
Tirabassi was number 2 in the secretariat of the state administration office, which managed some 600 million euros in assets, including donations from believers to the Pope for charity. From about 2012, the agency decided to diversify its portfolio and put some 200 million euros in a fund that invested, among other things, in the London warehouse and expanded it into a luxury residential property.
By the end of 2018, the fund had lost 18 million euros of the money from the Holy See and the Vatican’s auditor-general asked questions: . Tirabassi said he felt “psychologically under pressure” to find a way out.
Tirabassi and his boss, Archbishop Alberto Perlasca, teamed up with a handful of Italian businessmen who had a “privileged relationship with the Holy Father,” Tirabassi said, to find a way to buy out the fund manager, Raffaele Mincione, and acquiring shares in the building that the Vatican owned.
One of those Francis friends introduced Tirabassi to Torzi, and between mid-October and mid-November, Torzi came up with a solution that was worked out in his London offices Nov. 20-22, Tirabassi said.
Perlasca sent Tirabassi and the longtime Vatican financial adviser to London to work out the details, but once they got there, they realized they needed a lawyer. A text message read in court from Perlasca at the time said that “we would be in big trouble” if the auditor-general found that they had entered into a new series of contracts for the London property without the presence of a lawyer.
Perlasca refused to spend £160,000 on a lawyer familiar with the deal, Tirabassi said, so they decided to entrust their interests to Torzi’s lawyer, believing they were on the same side.
The deal required the Holy See to hold 30,000 shares of the building in one of Torzi’s holding companies, Gutt, with Torzi to hold 1,000 shares. But Torzi stipulated in the signed contract that his shares had all voting rights, meaning that he in fact owned and managed the building.
Tirabassi testified that he did not realize the “diversity of the shares” at the time, saying that he believed Torzi’s 1,000 shares were necessary for him to manage the property and would serve as compensation if the Vatican ever sold the property.
In the end, the Vatican bought out Torzi’s 1,000 voting shares for 15 million euros, the basis for the extortion charges against Torzi, which he denies.