Businessman Accused of Defrauding Vatican Arrested in London

An Italian businessman who helped to broker the purchase of a valuable London property for the Vatican was arrested in the U.K. on money laundering charges.

Gianluigi Torzi, 42, was arrested at the request of Italian authorities and denied bail, an official at Westminster Magistrates Court said Wednesday. Torzi is alleged to have conspired to defraud the Vatican’s diplomatic and political arm in connection with the purchase of the London property in 2018, according to a separate court judgment.

Torzi overturned a temporary asset freeze in March after a London judge ruled that the Vatican couldn’t show that the financier benefited from criminal conduct. He’s accused of extorting the Holy See of 15 million euros ($18.1 million) during the purchase of the property in the affluent suburb of Chelsea, southwest London.

A lawyer for Torzi said they would apply for bail urgently. Torzi is not a flight risk and knew about the Italian warrant, Francesco Meduri said. The AP reported the arrest earlier.

The Vatican in total spent some 350 million euros acquiring the luxury real estate and paying off charges, according to the March judgment. The development was bought for 129 million pounds just six years earlier. Torzi said Pope Francis was aware of the negotiations surrounding the purchase of the property.

The Vatican is now mulling the sale of the building in one of the most sought-after and rich zip codes in the capital.

Originally developed as a car showroom for the Harrods department store, the building spans more than 170,000 square feet (16,000 square meters) of offices and retail space with a neo-classical terracotta facade. It has permission to be converted into 49 luxury apartments.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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