VATICAN CITY (ChurchMilitant.com) - Blame for the Vatican Secretariat of State's purchase of U.K. property with $200 million in Peter's Pence money is landing on an Italian businessman.
Vatican police on Friday arrested Gianluigi Torzi following an interrogation by the Vatican's promoter of justice, according to a statement by the Holy See.
"Today the Office of the Promoter of Justice of the Vatican Tribunal, at the end of the interrogation of Mr. Gianluigi Torzi, who was assisted by his lawyers, issued an arrest warrant against him," reads the statement.
The Secretariat paid Torzi 10 million euros ($11.3 million) to finalize its purchase in 2018 of a former industrial building in Chelsea, London that was to be converted into luxury apartments intended for questionable use.
The day after concluding the London property deal in December 2018, Torzi and his family were honored with a private audience by Pope Francis. Now he's being charged with a series of financial crimes for this deal he helped broker.
On Friday, Torzi was "charged with various episodes of extortion, embezzlement, aggravated fraud and money-laundering," according to the Vatican communiqué. These crimes, it affirmed, carry a 12-year prison sentence under Vatican law.
The arrest order was signed by the promoter of justice, Professor Gian Piero Milano, and the adjunct promoter, Alessandro Diddi, following their questioning of Torzi on Friday. It was carried out immediately by the Vatican's gendarmerie (law enforcement).
The press release clarified the order was issued "in relation to the well-known events connected with the sale of the London property on Sloane Avenue, which involved a network of companies in which some officials of the Secretariat of State were present."
News of the Vatican's massive financial scandal broke in October 2019. Church Militant reported that some $200 million was allegedly misappropriated from Peter's Pence to purchase a 56,000-square foot former warehouse in the upscale district of London. An additional $250 million also came from the Pope's charitable fund to be spent on fraudulent legal firms set up to cover the purchase of the London property.
Leaked documents that month revealed the $250 million was originally invested in Falcon Oil, before being redirected into the Chelsea property. Former Secretariat of State Cdl. Tarcisio Bertone approved this transaction, according to the documents.
Torzi is also under scrutiny for his ties to Fabrizio Tirabassi, a lay official at the Secretariat, who was appointed director of a company owned by Torzi. This company arranged the deal to purchase the London property.
Tirabassi was one of five Secretariat officials suspended in October 2019 in connection to the financial scandal. He was under investigation in May owing to his ties to the deal and his relationship with Torzi.
When Pope Francis was asked directly by reporters in November 2019 about Peter's Pence funds being invested in the London property, Francis defended the transaction, claiming it was "good administration."
The Pope also admitted at the same time, however, that there was financial corruption in the Vatican.
"It's a bad thing, it's not good what is happening in the Vatican," he said. "But it was clear that the internal mechanisms are beginning to work, those which Benedict XVI had already begun to make."
Francis added, "And I thank God. I do not thank God there is corruption, but I thank God that the Vatican monitoring system is working well."