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Italian judge issues arrest warrant for Gianluigi Torzi, who brokered Vatican property deal

April 12, 2021 CNA Daily News 0
Police officer on duty at St Peter’s square in Vatican City. / Maciej Matlak/Shutterstock

Rome Newsroom, Apr 12, 2021 / 10:05 am America/Denver (CNA).

An Italian magistrate has issued an arrest warrant for Gianluigi Torzi, a broker who is under investigation due to his involvement in the Vatican’s controversial London property purchase.

Judge Corrado Cappiello signed the warrant for Torzi based on the investigation by police in Rome into his suspected fraudulent billing, money laundering, and other financial crimes in collaboration with three of his associates, the Italian newspaper Il Messaggero reported April 12.

Torzi is currently located in the United Kingdom and has not been served with the warrant.

The Italian broker is under investigation by the Vatican for his role in facilitating the Secretariat of State’s purchase of a London property on 60 Sloane Avenue in 2018. The Vatican alleges that in doing so, Torzi was part of a conspiracy to defraud the secretariat of millions of euros.

“It is alarming how easily Gianluigi Torzi and his collaborators managed to organize fraudulent operations,” Judge Cappiello wrote, according to the Italian newspaper.

“In addition to the criminal proceedings pending within Vatican City State for which he was recently arrested, Gianluigi Torzi, has police records for unlawful financial activities, fraud, issuing and using invoices for non-existent transactions and is also being investigated for fraudulent bankruptcy … within the Tag Communications group,” he said.

Torzi was arrested by the Vatican last summer and held in custody for a little more than a week on charges of two counts of embezzlement, two counts of fraud, extortion, and money laundering.

Last month, a British judge reversed the seizure of Torzi’s accounts that had been requested by Vatican prosecutors. 

Judge Tony Baumgartner of Southwark Crown Court stated that the Vatican’s “non-disclosures and misrepresentations are so appalling that the ultimate sanction” to reverse the seizure of the assets was appropriate.

The secretariat bought the property at 60 Sloane Avenue in London in stages between 2014 and 2018 from Italian businessman Raffaele Mincione. Torzi brokered the sale, earning millions of euros for his role in the final stage of the deal.

Torzi sold the secretariat the 30,000 majority shares in Gutt SA, the holding company through which the London property was purchased, while he retained the 1,000 shares with voting rights.

The Vatican claims Torzi was “secretive and dishonest” when he retained the voting shares, while Torzi argues that everything was transparent and communicated to Vatican officials in conversation and in documents signed by them.

In his ruling, Baumgartner sided with Torzi, who has denied wrongdoing, saying that the claim that the broker was “secretive and dishonest” was not supported by the evidence before him and a “misrepresentation” by Vatican prosecutors.

Reuters reported that a separate arrest warrant states that Torzi billed the Vatican for a total 15 million euros for work that it said was not carried out. It also stated that it remains unclear whether Italian authorities will issue an international warrant for Torzi’s arrest.


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Is Vatican City’s judicial system in peril?

March 31, 2021 CNA Daily News 0

Vatican City, Mar 31, 2021 / 02:01 pm (CNA).- The U.K. court ruling that overturned an account seizure request by Vatican City prosecutors has raised questions about the reliability of the Holy See’s judicial system.

The verdict by judge Tony Baumgartner overturned an earlier decision seizing the British accounts of the Italian broker Gianluigi Torzi. Torzi was involved in the Secretariat of State’s luxury real estate investment in London.

Torzi was arrested by the Vatican last summer on two counts of embezzlement, two counts of fraud, extortion, and money laundering.

In his ruling, Baumgartner often used the words “misrepresentation” and “mischaracterization” in relation to the Vatican’s request for the accounts seizure (known as a “restraint application”).

In his conclusion, Baumgartner noted that “an applicant to this court for a restraint order relying on external requests should be careful in relying upon facts unverified or unsupported by direct evidence, and should not unhesitatingly rely upon assertions that are not properly established on the facts.”

He also pointed out that “applications of this nature often are brought with haste because of the fear of the real risk of dissipation of assets, but the restraint application was not an application prompted by discoveries made in a new investigation, or even in an investigation that was unfolding.”

This is the third time that Vatican prosecutors have received a negative response from authorities abroad.

The first concerned Cecilia Marogna, who allegedly misused Vatican funds intended for humanitarian activities. Marogna, an Italian citizen, ended up in prison in Italy, while Vatican prosecutors also submitted a request to extradite Marogna to the Vatican. A lower court validated the arrest. But the Supreme Court of Cassation canceled the arrest because the request had no specific motive and “lacked the specific cautionary needs.”

The second was the search and seizure in Fabrizio Tirabassi’s apartment. Tirabassi, an official of the Secretariat of State’s administrative section, was one of the five Vatican officials suspended when the London investigation began. Rome’s public prosecutor initially validated the seizures in his apartment following a Vatican request.

But the measure was later declared null since the search and seizures were part of an “out of the ordinary request,” with “evident and substantial” illegitimate actions, such as that the seizure order came directly by the prosecutor without the validation of a judge.
The Baumgartner ruling is more significant than the other two because it is the first time that a third-party judge has looked into the documents and challenged the professionalism of Vatican prosecutors.

Baumgartner wrote that the Vatican’s “non-disclosures and misrepresentations are so appalling that the ultimate sanction” to reverse the assets’ seizure was appropriate.

The prosecutors, Baumgartner said, maintained that Torzi “‘dishonestly and secretly’ decided to issue himself controlling shares in Gutt (one of the societies that intervened in the purchase) to prevent the Secretariat from acquiring the whole of the interest in the Chelsea Property until the Secretariat agreed to pay him a further EUR 15,000,000 [around $17.6 million].”

But the judge concluded that the allocation of 31,000 shares of Gutt “is improperly characterized as secretive and dishonest in the Letter of Request, and that (…) is a misrepresentation of the facts.”
The British judge also noted that “the Letter of Request is conspicuously silent about [senior Vatican Secretariat of State official] Archbishop Peña Parra’s involvement throughout, a matter I find of some surprise given it emerged after the restraint order had been made that he is said to be the subject of the blackmail” — the alleged extortion of the $17.6 million.

The investigation has not yet led to an indictment, but questions have arisen regarding Archbishop Peña Parra: If he was aware of and endorsed the controversial financial operation, why wasn’t he too included in the investigation?

Most importantly, the British judge’s ruling could mark a serious setback for the Vatican judicial system’s credibility on the eve of the Moneyval report on the Holy See.

Moneyval is the Council of Europe’s committee that evaluates if member states are adhering to international standards. Moneyval will issue its fourth progress report on the Vatican at the end of April. This report will discuss the Vatican judicial system’s effectiveness in countering money laundering and the prevention of financing terrorism, so the Vatican prosecutor will be under strict scrutiny.

Many argue that the Vatican prosecutor’s reliability is in question since he conducted his investigation disregarding the rights of the people involved.

This began with Torzi’s arrest at the Vatican. He went with his lawyers for an interrogation but found himself thrown in a cell for 10 days.

Then there was Raffaele Mincione, an Italian citizen taken from a hotel and placed in custody in Italy. He has filed two lawsuits in London against the Holy See.

There are also possible lawsuits at the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg; since some of the defendants have been arrested or subjected to search and seizures without even knowing the charges against them.

Six people were first suspended and then demoted from (or not renewed in) their positions because of the London investigation. They had no notice of the charges against them until the prosecutors had interrogated them. Still, they do not know if they will face trial.

The Holy See is part of an international system and signs declarations, memoranda of understanding, and international conventions. Yet the Vatican state is an absolute monarchy, with a judicial system working under the decisions of an absolute monarch.

What if the activism of the Vatican tribunal backfires against the Holy See? What if any state hostile to religion uses these procedural mistakes and human rights failings to attack the Holy See and the Catholic Church in a broader sense?

These are the reasons why the Baumgartner ruling sends an alarm signal that the pope cannot ignore.