Businessman arrested by Vatican ordered to pay 10 million by UK court

News: Vatican Finances

What’s new: A UK court has ordered Gianluigi Torzi to pay an Italian insurance company 10 million pounds. Lawyers for the company accused him of misappropriating millions in government bonds.

Why it matters: Torzi was arrested by the Vatican last year over his role as broker in the sale of a London building to the Vatican Secretariat of State. The UK court settlement supports allegations Torzi attempted to extort the Vatican over the deal. It also points to details of a potentially serious conflict of interest with Raffaele Mincione, the businessman who owned the London building purchased by the Vatican.

What’s the whole story? Keep reading.

Gianluigi Torzi, the businessman arrested last year in Vatican City for his role in the Vatican’s London property scandal, has been ordered by the High Court of England and Wales to pay 10 million British pounds to an Italian insurance company. 

The court order, announced last week by Net Insurance, concludes a Net Insurance lawsuit against Torzi and one of his companies, Sunset Financials Ltd. 

Net Insurance has accused Torzi of misappropriating more than 26 million euros in government bonds from the insurance company in what lawyers have called a “sophisticated fraud.”

The court order was made after Torzi defaulted on a legal settlement to repay the company.

The missing millions are related to the ongoing financial scandal at the Vatican Secretariat of State in several key ways.

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As previously reported by The Pillar, a recorded conversation between Torzi and investment managers for the Secretariat of State in December 2018 appears to show Torzi attempting to compel an investment from the Vatican to cover the sum, which he owed to Net as part of a legal settlement to repay the missing millions.

Torzi was, at the time of the recording, acting as broker in the final sale of a London building to the Secretariat of State for some 350 million pounds. He is reportedly accused of attempting to extort the Vatican for millions, by restructuring shares in a holding company before handing over control of the building. 

The businessman, who can be heard on the recording telling Vatican investment managers that he would be “in the shit” if they did not provide the 10 million pounds he needed to satisfy his obligations to Net. 

In June 2020, Torzi was arrested by Vatican authorities and charged with extortion, embezzlement, aggravated fraud, and money laundering over his role in the London property deal.

Torzi has been accused of a conflict of interest in his brokering of the Vatican’s purchase of a London building, which it bought from Raffeale Mincione, a businessman who also managed Vatican investments.

According to lawyers for the insurance company, in 2017, Torzi illicitly transferred control of more than 26 million euros of Italian government bonds belonging to Net between companies belonging to him. The bonds came under the control of Sunset Financial, Torzi’s Malta-based company. Sunset then extended a 26 million euro line of credit to a company belonging to Mincione. 

Mincione’s own relationship with the Vatican dates back to 2014, when the Secretariat of State, under the direction of then-Archbishop Angelo Becciu, invested some 200 million euros in Mincione’s Athena Global Opportunities Fund. Mincione invested part of the funds in a 45% stake in a London property development at 60 Sloane Avenue, owned by another of his companies.

The Holy See separated itself from Mincione in the second half of 2018. Under the terms of the separation agreement, the Secretariat of State purchased the remaining share of the London building, gave up its remaining investment in the Athena Global Opportunities Fund, and reportedly paid an additional 40 million euros to Mincione through Athena. Torzi was engaged by the Secretariat of State to act as a middleman for the final acquisition of the building from Mincione.

Company records examined by The Pillar, and previously reported by the Financial Times, show that shortly after the time lawyers for Net argued that custody of the bonds was transferred to Sunset, Torzi’s company extended a 26.4 million euro line of credit to Mincione’s company Pop 12 Sarl. in Luxembourg, and a further line of credit from another of his companies, Global Prime Partners, also identified by lawyers for Net.

In total, Mincione’s company borrowed 26 million euros from GPP and Sunset against the value of shares in an Italian bank, Banca Carige. Over the course of 2018, the value of Banca Carige crashed, and Pop 12 reported a 17.5 million euro loss on its 24.9 million stake, leaving it unable to cover the line of credit. 

Corporate filings in Luxembourg show that in the weeks following the final sale of the London building to the Vatican, brokered by Torzi, Mincione’s Athena Capital Real Estate and Special Situations Fund 1, through which he owned the building, loaned millions of euros to Pop 12 to help cover the line of credit with GPP.

Previous reporting has also shown that Mincione invested Vatican funds in financial products offered by Torzi.

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Shortly after Torzi’s arrest in June, 2020, official Vatican media characterized Mincione’s management of Vatican investments as “speculative” and a “conflict of interest.” Italian authorities, acting on formal requests from Vatican prosecutors, have twice executed search and seizure warrants against Mincione, taking mobile phones and iPads as part of their ongoing investigation.

Mincione and his companies have already brought two separate lawsuits against the Vatican Secretariat of State and one of its holding companies over the fallout of the London property deal. 

In the suit filed in June 2020, Mincione asked that the court grant him declaratory relief against the Secretariat of State and rule he "acted in good faith” in his dealings with the Vatican. Mincione’s lawyers argue that the Holy See may be trying to nullify the sale of the building. 

A spokesman for Mincione told The Pillar that Mincione’s companies have “nothing to do” with Net Insurance and declined further comment.

A spokesman for Mincione has previously stated that the credit lines from GPP and Sunset to Pop 12 were “a very usual commercial arrangement” and that “the suggestion that any commercial relationship between Pop 12 and Sunset Financial had any influence on the Vatican's decision to appoint Mr Torzi as agent, is entirely wrong.”

In addition to the lawsuits against the Secretariat of State, Mincione is also currently engaged in separate legal action against several Italian newspapers over their coverage of his involvement in Vatican financial affairs. 

Should the cases against the newspapers and the secretariat proceed in open court in London, it is likely to reveal even more details about the still opaque financial dealings of the Secretariat of State.  

The curial department has been under investigation by Vatican financial authorities since July, 2019. The investigation was triggered by a complaint from the IOR, a Vatican bank, about the secretariat's request for 150 million euros to refinance a mortgage on the London property. 

The investigation has expanded to cover a range of scandals, and has already led to the forced resignation of Cardinal Angelo Becciu.

In December 2020, Pope Francis stripped the Secretariat of State of its financial portfolio, and ordered the department to turn over control of all bank accounts and investments to the Administration for the Patrimony of the Holy See.