The Vatican is currently in the midst of the biggest financial scandal in its history. Extortion, embezzlement, aggravated fraud and money laundering – these are the charges against Italian-English broker Gianluigi Torzi for buying and selling real estate in London, which are being challenged by a representative of the Vatican Court of Appeals.
As the Vatican’s communique says, the provision signed by Justice Representative Gian Piero Milano and his deputy Alessandro Diddi was issued in relation to the sale and purchase of real estate in London’s Sloane Avenue; the transaction involved a network of companies that some government officials from the Vatican Secretariat were engaged in.
According to the papal magistrates, entrepreneur Gianluigi Torzi started working with the Vatican to resolve the impasse of the Holy See’s participation in the Athena foundation; then he gradually became a manipulator capable of influencing the Secretariat of State, which resulted in him extorting €15 million.
How did the broker Gianluigi Torzi manage to defraud the Holy See without the Pope’s knowledge? Sputnik talked to Don Stefano Caprio, Professor of Russian History and Culture at the Pontifical Oriental Institute in Rome, to find out.
Sputnik: Where does this scandalous investigation that led to Torzi’s arrest come from?
Don Stefano Caprio: The investigation stems from the issue of the property in London’s Sloane Avenue, which had been the cause of speculation and attempts at making a profit. From the Vatican, Italian judge Giuseppe Pignatone, former prosecutor of Rome, has been working on the case for several months. He started as a judge in Sicily, and there he became known for fighting against the mafia. Today he is Chairman of the Supreme Court of the Vatican, and even here he has managed to take the fight against crime to an unprecedented level.
Sputnik: Vatican judges said it was the largest financial scandal the Vatican had ever faced. Is it true?
Don Stefano Caprio: Certainly it is the biggest scandal of recent times; this is evidenced by the figures revealed during the investigation: a 300 million building and bribes of tens of millions.
But in any case, the Vatican has seen many financial scandals throughout its history; recall the unscrupulous requisitions in the early 16th century that shocked German monk Martin Luther so much that they provoked a Protestant schism, one of the decisive events at the beginning of the modern era.
To be more recent, we can recall the IOR scandal (the Vatican Bank) of the times of Paul Marcinkus (bishop, President of the Vatican Bank from 1971 to 1989), who had arranged financial fraud in the early 1980s, which seriously challenged the pontificate of Pope John Paul II.
Since then, the Vatican’s financial challenges have been constantly discussed, but, obviously, not all issues have been resolved.
Sputnik: Who is Gianluigi Torzi? How did this person manage to defraud the Holy See unbeknown to Pope Francis?
Don Stefano Caprio: There have been lots of people like this broker, Gianluigi Torzi, in the Vatican for a long time. After all, until the Vatican’s finances are managed absolutely transparently, there will be many such characters: brokers who try to take advantage of uncontrolled transactions.
There are talks of him meeting Pope Francis, but almost every Catholic (and not only) can show you a photo with the Pope, and it’s hard to believe that any mediator really extorted money from the Pope in mafia-style talks. It’s easier to believe that during the meeting, he tried to promote his business, as many do when meeting with popes and cardinals.
Sputnik: Torzi has been charged with several cases of extortion, embezzlement, aggravated fraud and money laundering. What punishment is provided by Vatican law for such crimes?
Don Stefano Caprio: The accused is currently detained in the Vatican pre-trial detention centres; he faces up to 12 years in prison. The sentence is likely to be carried out and will be indicative, but the prison term is unlikely to be excessively long.
Sputnik: In the meantime, the scandal is escalating. According to Corriere, Swiss courts, at the request of the Vatican, have frozen millions of accounts owned or managed by prelates, financiers Raffaele Mincione and Enrico Crasso, Secretariat staff, Fabrizio Tirabassi, and Torzi himself. Does this mean that the Vatican is going to face another Vatileaks?
Don Stefano Caprio: I think this scandal will soon be forgotten. The aforementioned Swiss accounts concern second-place people, and no one said they are all to blame.
It is a different matter if some cardinals’ accounts were found, but this is unlikely to happen. This scandal will make it possible to make the Vatican’s financial management even more transparent.
Sputnik: What impact could this scandal have on the Holy See’s image, which has already been seriously damaged in recent years?
Don Stefano Caprio: There have been numerous scandals in recent years, and this recent one really seems to be very serious, but it has a rather limited scope in the number of people involved.
It could actually be positive for the Holy See’s image if the Vatican demonstrates a real desire to restore order this time. After all, Pope Francis has been in this position for more than 7 years, and so far he hasn’t been able to change many of the mechanisms of the curia, including in the financial sector. For him, this could be the last great opportunity to seriously influence the management of the Vatican machine.
Sputnik: Will we see any new turns in this investigation?
Don Stefano Caprio: I have no particular information nor qualifications to analyze the situations that are still under consideration by the Vatican prosecutor’s office. I can only assume and hope that all undergoing financial transactions are subject to rigorous checks. In the Vatican, it’s often the case that money is used easily and carelessly.
I don’t think, however, that there will be sensational developments beyond the gossip and propaganda. The Vatican’s finances are rather limited in size, much smaller than that of an average Italian bank.