Torzi was released from Vatican custody while bail money never showed

News: Vatican finances

The businessman at the center of the Vatican financial scandal was released from Vatican custody last year after agreeing to post a bond of nearly 3 million euros. The bail money was not actually sent to Rome, but that didn’t stop from Vatican officials from releasing him anyway.

Members of the Vatican City State’s national police force. Credit: Gaspard Miltiade/wikimedia. CC BY SA 4.0

Gianluigi Torzi, who faces charges of extortion for his role in the Vatican’s London property scandal, was held in Vatican custody for more than a week before being released last year. This weekend Italian journalist Emiliano Fittipaldi reported that while Torzi was released the money he agreed to post as bondy never arrived.

Writing in the Italian newspaper Domani, Fittipaldi reported on Saturday that in order to secure his release from Vatican jail, Torzi signed an instruction to Swiss authorities authorizing the transfer of 2.8 million euros to an escrow account at the IOR, a Vatican bank. 

However, when the Vatican attempted to execute the instruction, they found that because the accounts Torzi identified for the transfer were registered under the names of shell companies and proxy individuals, the transfers were denied. No money was received. Torzi, by that time, had been released.

As details of the Vatican’s London financial scandal continued to emerge this weekend, and after a drubbing of Vatican prosecutors last week from a London judge, Pope Francis said Saturday that further reforms to the Vatican court system may be necessary.

The pope on Saturday addressed the judges and prosecutors of Vatican City at the opening of the Vatican’s judicial year. The pope stressed the need for equality before the law in criminal matters, especially financial crimes, as Vatican prosecutors face mounting criticism over their handling of investigations into the London property purchase.

After the release of a UK court ruling last week, Vatican City prosecutors have come under fire over the 350 million euro London financial scandal and a series of missteps as they attempt to pursue the case in foreign jurisdictions.

Vatican prosecutors allege that businessman Gianluigi Torzi was part of a conspiracy dating back to 2014 to defraud the Vatican over the 350 million euro London deal. In an application to freeze Torzi’s assets in London, prosecutors named him together with Raffaele Mincione - who sold the Vatican the building and managed hundreds of millions in assets for the Secretariat of State - as conspirators, along with Vatican Secretariat of State officials Msgr. Alberto Perlasca and Mr. Fabrizio Tirabassi. 

Share

Financial records seen by The Pillar also show that Torzi named the lawyer who introduced him to the Vatican as board member of the holding company used to purchase the London property at the center of the ongoing Vatican financial scandal.

The attorney, Manuele Intendente, became a board member of Gutt SA, the Luxembourg holding company through which Torzi acquired and controlled the London building, on Christmas Eve, 2018, during the same period that Torzi is accused of extorting the Vatican. 

But prosecutors have not listed Italian lawyer Intendente as a potential member of the alleged conspiracy. Intendente introduced Torzi to the Secretariat of State and secured his role as broker for the final stage of the purchase of the London building in 2018. 

In June last year, the Financial Times reported that notes taken at the meeting introducing Torzi to the secretariat identify Intendente as a lawyer for the global management consultancy Ernst and Young. FT also reported that Intendente signed documents relating to the London deal using EY’s corporate address in Rome.

According to corporate filings, Intendente listed his address as 28, Via Po, Rome - Ernst & Young’s address.

A statement released by EY in June, 2020, said that Intendente had acted in a “personal capacity” in his involvement with the Secretariat of State and was no longer an employee.

Prosecutors have also not named senior current or former secretariat officials, including Archbishop Edgar Peña Parra, his predecessor as sostituto Cardinal Angelo Becciu, or Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin, as potential members of the alleged conspiracy, despite their personal involvement in key stages of the deal, leading some to question if the Vatican is shielding senior figures from prosecution or judicial scrutiny. 

In the UK decision, Judge Tony Baumgartner said Vatican prosecutors had misrepresented parts of their case and been selective in their presentation of evidence against Torzi. He specifically noted that Vatican prosecutors had omitted key information on senior secretariat officials, including Archbishop Peña Parra and Cardinal Parolin, personally approving details of Torzi’s plan for the purchase of a London building — a deal which saw him retain control of the property after he was, allegedly, supposed to hand over ownership to the Vatican, and for which he was subsequently charged with fraud and extortion.

The judge’s decision also detailed specific claims made by Torzi against Fabrizio Tirabassi, a lay official at the Secretariat of State, who is alleged to have routinely blackmailed senior curial officials at the secretariat, including Peña Parra and Cardinal Angelo Becciu. Those allegations have not yet been acknowledged by the Vatican.

Share The Pillar

In his address to judges and prosecutors on Saturday, Pope Francis called for a renewed focus on equality before the law and an end to “privileges that go back in time and are no longer in keeping with the responsibility of each for building up the Church.” Francis indicated the need for further reforms to Vatican City penal, following on from changes he made earlier this year.

Following the publication of the UK court ruling, Pope Francis said on Saturday that “further penal reforms” are needed, “especially for combating and suppressing financial crimes,” and “making international cooperation between the investigative organs of the Vatican and analogous institutions of other nations simpler and faster.” But Vatican prosecutors have also faced criticism for a series of missteps in trying to work with foreign law enforcement and court systems. 

In addition to the UK judgement, an Italian court ordered the return of hundreds of thousands of euros in cash and valuables seized from Tirabassi during the execution of a search and seizure warrant on his homes. Prosecutors also failed to secure the extradition of Cecilia Marogna, the woman at the center of a separate financial scandal at the Secretariat of State.

Vatican prosecutors first began investigating the London property deal in July 2019, after a complaint was made by the leadership of the IOR against the Secretariat of State over pressure to approve a 150 million euro loan to help refinance the building’s mortgage. That pressure included the personal intervention of Cardinal Parolin, who wrote to the bank’s president supporting the loan.