Former Harrods warehouses would have been converted into lofts. One floor would have raised the property and then it would have been sold at a significant profit, given that rents in this area of London are very high.
It was a big project, Mincione explained, 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 terms as all tenants of the Sloane Avenue property terminated their leases, Mincione explained.
By doing all these assessments, the idea of an investment in the building became feasible, using the part of the fund not intended for the Falcon Oil proposal.
Pivot from Angola to London
In the end, Operation Falcon Oil came to nothing. Mincione himself made it known that there were no necessary safeguards. At the same time, as Tirabassi told the court, there were also moral doubts about investing in oil when Pope Francis published the environment encyclical Laudato si’.
However, it should be noted that Monsignor Alberto Perlasca, then head of the Vatican Secretariat of State, would have been “very determined” to move the matter forward.
Becciu, on the other hand, no longer appeared in the discussions. “I had confidence in my collaborators. I had to have it,” he explained.
A total of 200 million euros therefore remained to be invested. Mincione said he was ready to return it to the Secretariat of State. He expressed this verbally to Crasso, who included it in a report sent to the Secretary of State which was presented 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 blocking management contract, which lasted five years and could be extended for two more in the event of a particular disruption. The only way out of the contract would have been to pay penalties. It was still 2013.
Credit Suisse approved the investment, but, Mincione said, the Secretary of State turned out to be “a particularly restless investor.” Instead of “Secretariat of State”, read “Monsignor Alberto Perlasca”, the one who, according to the hearings so far, has made all the decisions.
(Story continues below)
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Mincione said he never started work on Sloane Avenue but did start 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, then Brexit came with its disruptive effects. In this situation, the two additional years of the contract should have been guaranteed. But the Secretary of State, dissatisfied, decides to change direction.
Mincione said that as early as February 2018 he began to understand that the Secretariat of State had doubts. He felt the pressure to sell the shares of the property and set about satisfying his client. The possible purchase price was 350 million euros (about 375 million dollars), taking into account the project and not the state of the building.
Torzi enters the scene
There was a €350m bid from Invest, a company owned by Luciano Capaldo. Capaldo was at the time an associate of broker Gianluigi Torzi, whom Mincione met in late 2017.
Mincione recalls: “He had his office across the street. Sometimes I saw him taking breaks, taking a breath of fresh air. Torzi presented thousands of projects, some I read, very few maybe I approved.
In the second half of 2018, Torzi is the man the Secretary of State turned to to take over the shares of the Sloane Avenue building. Torzi said he would be able to convince Mincione to sell the shares and offered a new direction in which the stakes would be anchored to his Luxembourg company Gutt SA.