Tuesday, 6 April 2021

Vatican's Byzantine Financial Stink Reaches a London Crown Court

Gianluigi Torzi with Pope Francis
UK judge lifts restraining order on arrested Vatican businessman - The Pillar

A whiff of the stinking cesspit of corruption that is the Vatican under Pope Francis was hanging around Southwark Crown Court in March when Judge Tony Baumgartner lifted a freezing order which had been placed on Gianluigi Torizi’s bank account. Torizi is the Italian businessman who was arrested in the Vatican City last year as part of its ongoing investigation into the London property deal at the heart of the financial scandal concerning the finances of the Vatican Secretariat of State.

Delivering his judgment, Judge Baumgartner criticised the Vatican Promoter of Justice offices for court filings that the judge said were riddled with “non-disclosures and misrepresentations.

Readers may remember how this scandal first surfaced when Cardinal Giovanni Angelo Becciu suddenly 'resigned his rights as a cardinal' (a euphemism for 'was summarily sacked and stripped of his powers') over his involvement in financial scandals, including the London property deal, using a Vatican slush fund known as "Peter's Pence", and his doctoring of the Vatican's financial accounts.

Cardinal Becciu was former Prefect of the Congregation for Saints' Causes and Chief of Staff for Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis. He sacking, for which no reason was given in the terse statement announcing it, came soon after a raid on the offices of the Vatican's banking regulator as part of the investigation into the $225 million purchase of the former Harrods store site in Chelsea, London, for conversion into luxury apartments.

Judge Baumgartner's Judgement, Southwark Crown Court
According to this report in Religious News Service:
Torzi told the court that Fabrizio Tirabassi, another Secretariat employee, offered to provide him with a prostitute “as a gift in recognition of Mr. Torzi’s efforts.” Torzi also said that Tirabassi admitted to bribing Catholic prelates, including Cardinal Angelo Becciu, according to the document.
According to this report in the Daily Mail, which appears to have been lifted from The Times:
Gianluigi Torzi acted as the middle man in negotiations over the property in Sloane Avenue, Chelsea, which has been earmarked for development into luxury flats. However, the 42-year-old claimed in written evidence that senior lay official Fabrizio Tirabassi tried to thank him for his work by offering sex with a woman, which he declined, while also making threats to the lives of him and his children, according to the Times.

Furthermore, he alleged that Tirabassi boasted of blackmailing senior clergymen and so reported the behaviour to Pope Francis. The allegations came to light as a judge blasted Vatican prosecutors for making 'appalling' misrepresentations to the court about their probe into the Holy See's investment into the real estate deal. It had been alleged that Torzi, along with Tirabassi, senior cleric Monsignor Alberto Perlasca and London financier Raffaello Mincione, conspired to fleece the church jurisdiction out of millions in fees in negotiations, but Judge Tony Baumgartner last week reversed a decision to seize his bank accounts and awarded him legal fees.

Mincione, the property's previous owner, has strongly denied wrongdoing and has lodged two separate legal cases against the Holy See.
The Sloane Sqare Property, ear-marked for conversion into luxury apartments, at the centre of the scandal.
From Judge Baumgartner's remarks, there is a clear suspicion that officials in the Vatican tried to stitch Torzi up over the deal. In his 42-page judgement(PDF), the judge frequently criticised the submissions from the Vatican for their 'omissions and misrepresentations'.

The question then is, why would Vatican prosecutors bear false witness in an English court against one of their own people? Documents released by the judge may have some bearing on that matter. Again, according to Religious News Service:
The judge also released documents that contain Torzi’s testimony that he and his family were threatened by Vatican employees, naming Monsignor Alberto Perlasca, of the Secretariat of State, and a financial manager, Enrico Crasso.

[...]

Finally, the judge addressed the odd circumstances surrounding the Vatican’s financial watchdog agency, AIF, which first raised concerns about the payments to Torzi in March 2019. Despite the warnings from AIF, the payments were made a month later, casting doubt on the claims by Vatican prosecutors that anyone at the Secretariat was blackmailed. Since the payments went through, “it may be that Archbishop Peña Parra and the Secretariat misled the AIF about the nature of the payments,” the judge wrote, adding that the implausibility of the circumstances caused him to “further question” the Vatican prosecutor’s claims.
Facing a $60 million deficit caused by the coronavirus pandemic with its impact on tourist visits to the Vatican Museum and a loss of charitable donations, Pope Francis is fighting an uphill battle to reform the Vatican's finances and financial administration. He has already stripped the Secretariate of State of its financial assets, centralized purchasing of goods and services and reduced the salaries of cardinals and prelates working in the Vatican. He also recently sacked Giuseppe Pusceddu and replaced him with General Saverio Capolupo, former head of the Italian financial police, to oversee the scandal-ridden Immaculate Dermatological Hospital (IDI), Pusceddu having allegedly made 'grave mistakes' which remain unspecified.

When he was appointed last November, Pusceddu he had been charged with ending the financial scandals surrounding the hospital which appeared to be acting as a money-laundering institution for organised crime, with reports of 'shoeboxes full of cash and “strange characters” with thuggish accents walking the halls.' It remains to be seen exactly what his 'grave mistakes' were. Either he has become embroiled in the traditional corruption at the hospital himself, or he has upset the powers behind the "strange characters with thuggish accents" who made use of the facility and who continue to operate under the blind eye of the Vatican.

At the time of his sacking, Cardinal Becciu was rumoured to have used the "Peter's Pence" slush fund to prop up the hospital in return for his niece being given a position on the staff.

In now appears that some of the main players in the Cardinal McCarrick, sex abuse scandal were also involved. in 2015, Cardinal Donald Wuerl, who was then Archbishop of Washington, D.C., and his predecessor (now ex-) Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, convinced the Papal Foundation, a charitable fund sponsored by wealthy U.S. Catholics, to donate $25 million outright to IDI.

There ar almost certainly more noxious bubbles yet to bust on the surface of the stinking mire that is the Vatican's finances.


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