The Vatican has made an arrest in the ongoing case of a London real estate deal gone sideways. The suspect, it was announced by Vatican chief prosecutor Gian Piero Milano, is Italian financier Gianluigi Torzi, who stands formally charged with crimes including extortion, embezzlement, aggravated fraud and money-laundering, and faces 12 years in prison, if convicted. He denies wrongdoing.
The Vatican’s brief against Torzi seems to turn on the fees he received for facilitating the outright purchase of an underperforming Sloane Avenue investment property. He received an estimated €15m. But what’s not clear is what kind of wrongdoing the Vatican is alleging. If the Vatican had contractual undertakings with Torzi, and Torzi simply asked for what he felt was his due, and was paid, it is hard to see how “extortion” and the other charges would come into it.
One also wonders why the biggest hats on the Vatican side seem so far to be escaping any sort of real scrutiny. The leadership of the Secretariat of State are still in their roles, but several lower-ranking officials have been either sent home outright, confirmed in their suspensions, or demoted.
It makes one think of the Bambino Gesù scandal. In 2017, Vatican prosecutors charged the former president of the Bambino Gesù pediatric hospital foundation, Giuseppe Profiti, and the foundation’s treasurer, Massimo Spina, with embezzlement and corruption to the tune of €480,000 in connection with renovations to former secretary of state Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone’s Vatican apartment.
When the first instance trial concluded at the Vatican, Profiti was convicted of abuse of office – a lesser charge – and Spina was acquitted. Cardinal Bertone was neither indicted nor cited to appear as a witness in the case against the two men accused of wrongdoing of which he was the putative beneficiary.
One major difference between the fairly run-of-the-mill soap opera (not) starring Cardinal Bertone, and the current scandal, is that the Bertone business did not involve major mishandling of sensitive financial intelligence information. When the Sloane Avenue business reached the press, financial intelligence units had their business spilled all over the papers. They don’t like that sort of thing. When it happens as the result of infighting among factions inside the state apparatus of one of their new members, they like it even less.