Inside the Vatican scandal over a London property investment

Новини за 09.07.2020

The case of Gianluigi Torzi is likely to shed a light on one of the Catholic church’s most controversial financial deals in decades

As the rest of Italy relaxed on December 26 2018, Gianluigi Torzi put on a dark suit and tie for an important meeting. The client the Italian businessman was visiting later that day answered to no one less than God himself.

At 12pm Pope Francis stepped out on to his balcony in the Apostolic Palace, to deliver a sermon on St Stephen, the first Christian martyr. Francis instructed the crowd of thousands gathered below “to learn from him how to forgive. It is not easy to do, as we all know.”

Later that afternoon the Argentine pontiff, who has refocused the Catholic Church on the poor and rooting out corruption since his election in 2013, granted a private audience in his ascetic Santa Marta residence to Mr Torzi and his family, an honour normally reserved for only the most senior foreign dignitaries and Cardinals.

The man Francis met that day had been a suspect in multiple criminal investigations, was flagged on a global anti-money laundering watchlist, and would come to earn millions of euros in payment from the Vatican for just five months of work.

Last Friday evening Mr Torzi was arrested and charged by the Vatican authorities for what they described as “extortion, embezzlement, aggravated fraud and self laundering” for his role in a controversial purchase of a luxury building in Chelsea, one of the wealthiest neighbourhoods in London, on behalf of the Vatican in 2018.

The Italian broker is accused by Vatican prosecutors of having demanded payment for his role in helping the Church acquire the building, and having threatened to keep the property for himself — a charge Mr Torzi, through his lawyers, has denied.

Before Mr Torzi’s arrest, Pope Francis called the Vatican investments that are being probed “a scandal”. “There is corruption, we can see it,” he said late last year.

Yet the Vatican has so far failed to explain how weeks before his audience with the Pope, Mr Torzi, a little-known businessman based in London, managed to gain access to some of the highest-ranking officials in the Holy See who decided to hand him control of hundreds of millions of euros worth of Church assets.  

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