Italian Accused of Extorting Vatican Set to Be Extradited
(Bloomberg) -- A businessman accused of extorting Vatican officials during the purchase of a property in London’s upscale Chelsea district should be sent back to Italy to face criminal charges, a U.K. judge ruled.
Gianluigi Torzi, 42, is wanted by Italian authorities on fraud and money-laundering charges. Torzi allegedly conspired to defraud the Vatican’s diplomatic and political arm in connection with the purchase of the London property in 2018.
The Vatican in total spent some 350 million euros ($396 million) acquiring the luxury Sloane Square building and paying off charges, according to a March judgment. The Chelsea development was bought for 129 million pounds just six years earlier.
Torzi’s lawyers had argued that he was at risk of double jeopardy if returned to Rome, potentially facing trial on the same matters twice. He’s insisted Italian authorities have been misled by their Vatican counterparts.
But Judge Michael Snow disagreed, saying in his ruling that it was “too speculative” for Torzi to suggest that the Italian extradition was only taking place at the behest of the Vatican. The extradition was not an abuse of process, he said.
Torzi will remain on bail and his lawyers said they’ll seek permission to appeal.
“Mr. Torzi has always maintained his innocence in respect of these matters,” his lawyers said in a statement. “The highest court in Italy, the Court of Cassation, has already annulled the warrant from which these extradition proceedings arise.”
The Vatican trial on the purchase of the real estate is currently on hold, after the judge said the prosecutor had overlooked some procedural steps. The prosecutor is now carrying out further investigations and is expected to eventually restart pressing charges.
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. The Vatican is now looking to sell the building.
©2021 Bloomberg L.P.