Vatican lawsuit puts pope and top aide at center of London deal

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VATICAN CITY – The former director of the Vatican’s financial monitoring agency testified Wednesday that Pope Francis asked him to help the Vatican Secretariat of State gain full control of a London property, once again putting the pope and his main assistants in the spotlight for their role in the problematic agreement.

Tommaso Di Ruzza is one of 10 people charged in the Vatican’s sprawling financial trial, centered on the Secretary of State’s 350 million euro investment in a luxury property in London. Vatican prosecutors have accused Vatican brokers and officials of stealing millions of euros in fees from the Holy See, much of it from donations from the faithful, then extorting 15 million euros from the Vatican to get full control of the property.

Di Ruzza, the former director of the Vatican’s Financial Information Authority, or AIF, is accused of abuse of power for allegedly failing to block the payment of 15 million to broker Gianluigi Torzi and for allegedly failing to to alert Vatican prosecutors to a seemingly suspicious deal.

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Di Ruzza testified Wednesday that he had neither the authority to block the payment nor sufficient evidence at the time to report it to Vatican prosecutors as suspicious under international standards or the Vatican’s anti-money laundering laws.

Further, he testified that the AIF’s involvement in the deal was correct, noting that as soon as he learned of the deal, he launched a multi-pronged international financial intelligence investigation that was active when Vatican police raided its headquarters on October 1, 2019.

“I have always acted within the rules and to protect the interests of the Holy See,” he said.

At issue in this case are contracts signed between Torzi and the Secretariat of State in November and December 2018 claiming that the Vatican would own 30,000 shares in the holding company of the London property and Torzi 1,000. But Torzi’s shares were the the only ones to have the right to vote, which means that he controlled the building.

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In December 2018, the Vatican realized it had an empty box in its hands and scrambled to find a way to gain full control of the building: either by buying out Torzi’s shares or by launching legal action against him for what the Vatican considered to be a fraudulent deal.

No. 2, or Alternate Secretary of State, Bishop Edgar Pena Parra, has previously told prosecutors that, based on Francis’ desire to “turn the page” and spend as little as possible to gain control of the building, the Vatican decided to pay Torzi rather than bring him to justice.

Di Ruzza testified that he met Francis on or around March 26, 2019 and that Francis told him he wanted to have “direct management, without intermediaries” in the property.

Pena Parra had sought the advice of the AIF to obtain a loan from the Vatican bank, known as IOR, to obtain a loan of 150 million euros to extinguish the mortgage on the property because the existing mortgage was too onerous, Di Ruzza said. AIF was asked to ensure the loan was in compliance, which Di Ruzza said it was.

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Di Ruzza said the AIF opened an investigation into the deal on March 18, 2019, sending financial information requests to financial intelligence units in half a dozen countries, shortly after being informed by Pena. Parra.

But when asked by prosecutor Gianluca Perone why he hadn’t filed a suspicious report at the time with Vatican prosecutors, Di Ruzza replied: “Let me ask a question: who should I have denounced? The substitute?”

He testified that at the time Vatican police raided his headquarters on October 1, 2019, the AIF investigation file contained 65 documents from intelligence investigations inside and outside the Vatican. . But he said the investigation was not yet complete and answers were still missing.

He said that under the Vatican’s own laws, he needed “a well-founded reason to suspect money laundering or terrorist financing activity”…or underlying crimes, which he does not there was no element or signal coming from inside or outside the Holy See. ”

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Prosecutors dropped an earlier embezzlement charge against Di Ruzza after being forced to redo their investigation because they made procedural errors. When redone, prosecutors dropped the charge.

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