Mar 27, 2021 @ 12:40

Court revokes asset freeze on Vatican real estate broker

A British judge overturned an order freezing the assets of a Vatican middleman in an opaque London property deal, according to a judgment made public this week.

Vatican police arrested Gianluigi Torzi in June last year, as part of a high-profile probe into the 2018 purchase and sale of a luxury apartment building in the upmarket Chelsea area of the British capital.

Prosecutors in the city state allege the Italian financier conspired with others to defraud the Vatican’s political and diplomatic arm, the Secretariat of State — charges he denies.

He is facing extortion, embezzlement, aggravated fraud and money laundering charges in relation to the complicated sale.

But judge Tony Baumgartner revoked an earlier ruling to freeze three UK bank accounts held by Torzi, in part because of “appalling” non-disclosures and misrepresentations by the Vatican.

The Vatican failed to provide sufficient evidence of criminal wrongdoing, he said in the March 10 ruling, which was made public on Wednesday and Torzi’s UK law firm published online on Friday.

The case lifts the lid on the arcane and secretive financial affairs of the Holy See.

Pope Francis last year issued a new law designed to boost transparency in the Vatican’s tenders, part of a series of measures to shine more light on its internal workings.

In the ruling, judge Baumgartner was at pains to point out that the Vatican’s request for an asset freeze was not made in bad faith.

But he said he did not think “the interests of justice would be properly met by the Court not discharging a restraint application that is so badly faulted as this one.

“It would make a mockery of the process otherwise, and provide ready encouragement to others who chose to adopt the same approach.”

He added: “In my judgment, the Respondent’s non-disclosures and misrepresentations are so appalling that the ultimate sanction of discharge is justified.”

ar-phz/csp/har

© Agence France-Presse

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