Report: Secret audio recording shows key figures discussing Vatican’s London property deal

polizia at St P Police officer on duty at St Peter's square in Vatican City. | Maciej Matlak/Shutterstock.

An Italian newspaper claimed Monday that it had gained access to a secret audio recording of a meeting between three central figures in the Vatican's controversial London property deal.

In a report published Oct. 19, the Corriere della Sera newspaper said it had heard "extensive excerpts" from a meeting between Gianluigi Torzi, Fabrizio Tirabassi, and Enrico Crasso on Dec. 19, 2018. 

The report, which includes the audio file, said the three men can be heard discussing the deal which is now at the center of a criminal investigation by the Vatican judiciary. 

CNA has not independently verified the authenticity of the recording, which the newspaper said was "at times incomprehensible."

Corriere della Sera said the meeting took place in a private room at the five-star Bulgari Hotel in Milan, two weeks after the Vatican Secretariat of State reached a deal to end its relationship with the Italian businessman Raffaele Mincione and take full ownership of a building on London's Sloane Avenue.

According to the newspaper, Tirabassi, a lay official at the Secretariat of State who oversaw investments, can be heard in the recording thanking Torzi, an Italian broker, for his help in securing the deal.

Tirabassi then allegedly tried to persuade Torzi to part with a thousand voting shares belonging to Gutt SA, Torzi's Luxembourg-based company that took over the building at 60 Sloane Avenue and meant to act as a pass through between Mincione and the Vatican.

Corriere della Sera claimed that Tirabassi warned Torzi of the possibility that "everything will be centralized" at the Vatican amid financial reforms, weakening the discretionary authority of the Secretariat of State over investments. 

"This is not good for you," he allegedly told Torzi.

Torzi then reportedly pushed to be paid up to 10 million euros. The newspaper added that Torzi said that he needed help regarding the purchase of a real estate bond using Vatican funds. 

"Tomorrow if you don't buy Augusto I'm in the [expletive]," he allegedly said, insisting on an eight million euro investment. 

The newspaper reported that during an animated discussion that followed, Crasso, a longtime investment manager for the Vatican, tried to mediate. It claimed that he suggested a pay-off for Torzi of between six and 10 million, established by a contract. 

The Corriere della Sera said that the meeting ended without an agreement, but that Torzi received 15 million euros from the Secretariat of State in May 2019. 

On June 5, Vatican officials arrested Torzi for his role in the London property deal, charging him with "extortion, embezzlement, aggravated fraud and money laundering." 

Torzi was granted bail on June 15, following questioning about the sale and purchase of the building at 60 Sloane Avenue.

Tirabassi was one of five Vatican employees suspended in October 2019, following a raid conducted by Vatican gendarmes, who seized computers and documents related to financial dealings at the department.

CNA has previously reported that Tirabassi was appointed a director of a company owned by Torzi while the businessman was finalizing the Vatican's purchase of the London property.

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According to corporate filings, Tirabassi, who was responsible for managing financial investments for the secretariat, was appointed a director of Gutt SA, the Luxembourg company owned by Torzi and used to transfer ownership of the building between Mincione and the Vatican.

Filings for Gutt SA with the Luxembourg Registre de Commerce et des Sociétés show that Tirabassi was appointed a director on Nov. 23, 2018 and removed by a filing sent on Dec. 27. At the time of his appointment as director, Tirabassi's business address was listed as the Secretariat of State in Vatican City.

In May this year, CNA asked Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin if he was aware of the appointment, and whether he considered it appropriate for an official at the secretariat to accept such a position. CNA also asked if officials at the secretariat are generally permitted to accept such positions.

Parolin told CNA at the time that it would not be appropriate for him to respond, "especially taking into account the ongoing legal proceedings." 

Earlier this month, Crasso defended his stewardship of Church funds controlled by the Secretariat of State, saying that the investments he had made were "no secret."

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