Vatican jails Italian banker for extortion

The Vatican has jailed an Italian banker for extortion, embezzlement, aggravated fraud and money laundering.

The arrest warrant for Gianluigi Torzi, who had acted as an intermediary for the Holy See in the 2018 purchase of a luxury building in London, was issued last week by the Vatican’s civil court.

It has been carrying out a nearly yearlong investigation into the purchase details of a building located on London’s Sloane Avenue.

The Vatican says Torzi, who is being held in Vatican custody, faces up to 12 years in prison.

An internal investigation was launched after the Vatican’s Secretariat of State in November 2018 sought to withdraw 185 million euros from a Swiss investment fund.

The withdrawal was to help the Vatican regain direct management of a 17,000 m2 London building divided into about 50 luxury apartments.

However, some of the money in the Swiss fund came from the annual Peter’s Pence collection. This money is meant to be used among other things, for the operation of the Roman Curia.

Misappropriations were then identified and Pope Francis ordered an investigation.

Several Vatican offices were searched, including that of the Secretariat of State. Several Vatican finance officials were removed from their posts and some were sacked.

The investigation also looked into “lay people close to the Secretariat of State” after secret accounts were discovered in several tax havens.

The Italian press says the Vatican took a first stake in the Sloane Avenue project as early as 2014, via a Luxembourg fund managed by the holding company of the Italian businessman Raffaele Mincione. It would then have made a capital gain.

Poor financial management, via Switzerland and Luxembourg, prompted the Secretariat of State to end its collaboration by buying the whole of the London building and then ceding control of it to Torzi, who was based in London.

The Vatican gendarmerie’s incarceration of a non-citizen of the small city-state like the Italian banker, is extremely rare.

It underlines the Holy See’s will to put an end to a time when it was at the mercy of unscrupulous financiers and its need to regain donors’ confidence.

Donations are one of the primary sources of the Holy See’s income along with money generated by the Vatican Museums, which has reduced as a result of the COVID-19 lockdown.

“The best we can do is to be diligent and transparent,” said Father Juan Antonio Guerrero, prefect of the Secretariat for the Economy.

“Confidence is gained through rigor, clarity and sobriety, as well as by humbly admitting past mistakes … We too have relied on people who did not deserve our trust. We are always vulnerable in this area.”

Guerrero helped establish the Vatican’s recent Code of Public Procurement that reflects the Holy See’s will to comply with international standards that follow Catholic social teaching.


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