A UK judge has blasted Vatican prosecutors for making “appalling” misrepresentations to the court about their investigation into the Holy See’s investment in a London property deal, and determined they do not have much of a case against their key suspect.
In the remarkable ruling made public this week, Judge Tony Baumgartner of Southwark Crown Court reversed another judge’s decision to seize the British-based bank accounts of broker Gianluigi Torzi and awarded Mr Torzi legal fees.
The Vatican had requested the seizure as part of its corruption investigation into Mr Torzi and other suspects whom prosecutors accuse of fleecing the Holy See of millions in fees stemming from its 350 million-euro investment in the luxury building in London’s Chelsea neighbourhood.
But Mr Baumgartner ruled that the Vatican’s seizure request was so full of omissions and misrepresentations that it likely affected the original judge’s decision, and ordered it reversed.
And in deciding whether the Vatican’s allegations against Mr Torzi justified a new asset seizure, Mr Baumgartner concluded that the Vatican had not provided sufficient evidence to make the case.
“I do not consider there is reasonable cause to believe that Mr Torzi has benefited from criminal conduct,” as the Vatican alleges, he wrote.
The ruling was the latest blow to Vatican prosecutors, who have sought international judicial assistance in their probe into the Secretariat of State’s investment of donations from the faithful.
Vatican prosecutors have faced a series of embarrassing setbacks in foreign courts that point to incompetence, overreach and problems as basic as getting documents translated properly.
Vatican prosecutors have been investigating the London investment for nearly two years, but no one has been indicted.
Mr Torzi is accused of embezzlement and fraud in connection with his role in helping the Holy See acquire the part of the London building it did not already own.
Prosecutors allege he extorted the Vatican for 15 million euros in fees, though Vatican monsignors and officials approved the payment and signed contracts giving him voting rights in the venture.
Mr Torzi has denied any wrongdoing and maintains his dealings with the Vatican were completely above board.
Mr Baumgartner seemed to concur, citing documentation provided by the Vatican that showed Mr Torzi’s involvement in the deal involved “arm’s length, commercial transactions”.