British judge unblocks holdings of key figure in Vatican financial scandal
VATICAN CITY (RNS) – A British judge on Tuesday, March 23 overturned an earlier court ruling that froze the assets of Gianluigi Torzi, accused of defrauding the Vatican of about $ 22 million, allegedly with the help of conspirators inside and outside the Vatican.
“I don’t think there is reasonable reason to believe that Mr Torzi profited from criminal behavior,” Southwark Crown Court judge Tony Baumgartner wrote, criticizing the offices of the promoter of Vatican justice for court records which, according to the judge, were riddled with “non-disclosures and misrepresentations.”
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Charges against Torzi revolve around the 2018 purchase of a property in central London, which cost the Vatican well over $ 400 million through an artificial spate of payments and commissions on offshore bank accounts .
The deal tarnished the reputation of the Vatican, particularly because some claimed that the purchase of the property was made with funds from Peter’s Pence, a custodian of charitable donations by grassroots Catholics.
In 2014, the Vatican invested $ 200 million in the property, then owned by Italian investor Raffaelle Mincione. In 2018, the Vatican sought to purchase the entire property with Torzi’s mediation, but Torzi retained 1,000 shares, which allowed him to have the final say on the management of the property.
Torzi then asked the Vatican to pay more than $ 17 million for his 1,000 actions, citing his role as mediator and the personal expenses he incurred. After paying the sum in two separate installments in 2019, the Vatican accused Torzi of blackmail and, in June 2020, detained him for questioning before releasing him 10 days later.
The UK judge’s ruling brings a new perspective to the complex financial scandal by asserting that the deal was nothing more than a business transaction. Baumgartner also pointed out that the transactions appear to have taken place with the consent of the Vatican’s highest-ranking prelates, including Archbishop Edgar Pena Parra, the Vatican’s equivalent of the deputy chief of staff, and Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Secretary of State to Pope Francis. .
The judge acknowledged that the Vatican’s request to freeze Vita Healthy Ltd. de Torzi – the fund that received the $ 17 million payment from the Vatican – was not “brought in in bad faith.” But he said the court could not accept “such a severely criticized request for restraint as this,” using the legal term for the freezing of assets.
The judge also released documents containing Torzi’s testimony that he and his family had been threatened by Vatican employees, appointing Bishop Alberto Perlasca, of the Secretariat of State, and a financial director, Enrico Crasso.
Torzi told the court that Fabrizio Tirabassi, another employee of the Secretariat, had offered to give him a prostitute “as a gift in recognition of Mr. Torzi’s efforts”. Torzi also said Tirabassi admitted to bribing Catholic prelates, including Cardinal Angelo Becciu, according to the document.
Francis removed Becciu from his post at the Vatican Congregation for the Causes of Saints in September 2020 and stripped him of his cardinal rights but not of his title.
Finally, the judge addressed the bizarre circumstances surrounding the Vatican’s financial watchdog agency, AIF, which first raised concerns about payments to Torzi in March 2019. Despite AIF’s warnings, the payments were carried out a month later, casting doubt on allegations by Vatican prosecutors that anyone in the Secretariat was blackmailed.
Since the payments were made, “Bishop Peña Parra and the Secretariat may have misled the AIF about the nature of the payments,” the judge wrote, adding that the improbability of the circumstances had led him to to “question” the allegations of the Vatican prosecutor. .
With the crux of financial scandals, Francois faces an uphill battle to embrace broader economic reform. Since becoming pope, Francis has already stripped the Vatican Secretariat of State of its financial assets, centralized the purchase of goods and services in the city-state, and more recently reduced the salaries of cardinals and prelates. high-ranking working in the Vatican. (The COVID-19 pandemic, meanwhile, has cut charitable donations and dried up tourism in the Vatican Museums, leaving a whopping $ 60 million shortfall in Vatican coffers.)
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On Saturday March 20, Francis appointed General Saverio Capolupo, former head of the Italian financial police, to oversee a struggling Vatican-owned hospital in Rome, the Immaculate Dermatological Hospital, or IDI. Capolupo took the place of interim president Giuseppe Pusceddu, who, according to sources familiar with the facility, “made serious mistakes” in the management of the IDI.
As if to highlight the complexity of the Vatican’s financial web, Torzi’s name also popped up in connection with the IDI. According to Catholic News Agency reports, a fund managed by Mincione, the original owner of the London property, bought more than $ 11 million in shares of Sierra One SpV, an investment fund owned by Torzi, through a company called Sunset Enterprise.
Sunset Enterprise is one of several companies currently under investigation by Italian authorities for suspected fraud involving another Catholic hospital in Rome.