The former Harrods warehouses would have been converted into lofts. A floor would have raised the property, and then it would have been sold at a significant profit, considering that rents in that area of London are very high.
It was a large project, explained Mincione, because English law states that, when the intended use of an office building is changed, another office building must also be built to keep the tax burden unchanged.
It was also a project that came with favorable conditions because all the tenants of the Sloane Avenue property terminated their leases, Mincione explained.
By making all these assessments, the idea of an investment in the building became feasible, using the part of the fund not earmarked for the Falcon Oil proposal.
Pivoting from Angola to London
In the end, the Falcon Oil operation came to nothing. Mincione himself made it known that there were no necessary guarantees. At the same time, as Tirabassi told the court, there were also moral doubts about investing in oil when Pope Francis was publishing the environmental encyclical Laudato si’.
Yet it should be noted that Monsignor Alberto Perlasca, then head of the Vatican Secretariat of State administration, was said to have been “very determined” to move forward with the affair.
Becciu, on the other hand, no longer appeared in the discussions. “I had faith in my collaborators. I had to have it,” he explained.
There was, therefore, a total of 200 million euros left to invest. Mincione said that he was willing to return it to the Secretariat of State. He expressed this verbally to Crasso, who included him in a report sent to the Secretariat of State that was shown in court by Mincione’s defense.
The Secretariat of State, however, decided to trust Mincione. He changed the destination of the Athena Fund, using it to take over the shares of the Sloane Avenue property, starting the operation. The Vatican entered into a so-called lock-up management contract, which lasted five years and could be extended by another two in the event of a particular disruption. The only way out of the contract would have been to pay penalties. This was still 2013.
Credit Suisse approved the investment, but, Mincione said, the Secretariat of State proved to be “a particularly restless investor.” For “Secretariat of State,” read “Monsignor Alberto Perlasca,” the one who, according to the hearings so far, took all the decisions.
(Story continues below)
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Mincione said that he never started work on Sloane Avenue but had begun work on the other office building to be built as compensation for the change in use. There was no way to get the investment going, and then Brexit came, with its disruptive effects. In this situation, the extra two years on the contract should have been guaranteed. But the Secretariat of State was dissatisfied and decided to change management.
Mincione said that as early as February 2018, he began to understand that the Secretariat of State was having second thoughts. He felt pressure to sell the shares of the property, and set out to satisfy his client. The possible purchase price was 350 million euros (around $375 million), considering the project, not the state of the building.
Torzi enters the picture
There was an offer of 350 million euros from Invest, a company belonging to Luciano Capaldo. Capaldo was at the time a partner of the broker Gianluigi Torzi, whom Mincione met at the end of 2017.
Mincione recalled: “He had his office across the street. Sometimes I saw him in breaks, taking a breath of fresh air. Torzi has presented thousands of projects, some I have read, very few perhaps I have approved.”
In the second half of 2018, Torzi was the man to whom the Secretariat of State turned to take over the shares in the Sloane Avenue building. Torzi said he would be able to convince Mincione to sell the shares and proposed new management in which the stakes were anchored to his Luxembourg-based company Gutt SA.