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October 12, 2022

Italy’s biggest newspaper pays ‘substantial sum’ in libel compensation to British financier over Vatican embezzlement accusations

By Charlotte Tobitt

Italy’s oldest and most-read newspaper, Corriere della Sera, has paid a “substantial sum” in compensation to a British financier over what were alleged to be defamatory accusations of embezzlement, fraud and corruption.

London’s High Court heard on Wednesday that the newspaper’s publisher RCS Media Group had agreed to pay compensation to Raffaele Mincione (pictured), an Italian national with acquired British citizenship, to settle the case.

The publisher also agreed to remove two online articles from 2019 and 2020 about the sale of 60 Sloane Avenue in Chelsea, London to the Vatican.

Documents in the case claimed Corriere della Sera has a daily print circulation of 250,000, almost 5.5 million daily online visitors, and a substantial readership among the 600,000 Italians living in the UK.

The articles related to an ongoing corruption scandal around the Vatican’s investment strategies. Mincione, who founded private equity investment firm WRM Group, was among ten people accused of fraud and embezzlement by the Vatican last year in connection with the London property deal. He denies the charges and maintains that he acted properly at all times.

He told the ongoing Vatican tribunal earlier this year that church officials knew the risks: “The word risk is specified at least 150 times in our fund,” he said, according to the Religion News Service. “It’s like when you go buy cigarettes and the words ‘Smoke Kills’ is written on it.”

Mincione’s involvement began in 2014 when the Vatican’s Secretariat of State invested €350m with him for the real estate venture. He was taken off the deal in 2018 after the Vatican felt it was being fleeced, according to a Reuters report of the indictment document.

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The first Corriere della Sera article, in November 2019, reported there were reasonable grounds to suspect Mincione had been guilty of criminal conspiracy and fraud in connection with the sale of the Chelsea property to the Vatican for three times more than it had been worth months earlier.

The second article, published in June 2020, reported there were reasonable grounds to suspect he was guilty of embezzlement, claiming this was in part because he had wrongly appropriated part of the money invested by the Vatican and had used it for personal gain.

According to a press release about the settlement, one Corriere della Sera journalist questioned by Mincione’s lawyers at the High Court claimed they could not remember the sources for some of their information, while another journalist admitted they failed to authenticate documentary evidence, some of which was destroyed before the case got to court.

After Mincione began libel proceedings, the publisher admitted the imputations made against him in these articles were defamatory.

It had planned to defend the case at the High Court using the public interest defence at a trial due to start in November, but in September it instead offered a settlement involving a “substantial sum” for compensation. A statement was read to the court marking the end of the case on Wednesday.

Mincione, who had claimed the articles seriously harmed his personal and professional reputation in England, said: “These articles were false, misleading and highly defamatory. They caused me considerable damage.

“Even after they were published and the damage was done, we tried several times to resolve the dispute with RCS.

“It is telling that RCS did not even try to argue that the articles were true, and instead relied on a public interest defence. As has been the case throughout this saga, nobody has even been able to produce any evidence that me or WRM Group companies did anything wrong.”

Picture: David M. Benett/Getty Images for M Industry London

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