60 Sloane Avenue, Chelsea © Tolga Akmen / FT Commission

The Vatican has arrested a London-based broker involved in a multimillion pound purchase in 2018 of a luxury property development in Chelsea, in the latest stage of a sweeping investigation into suspected financial irregularities inside the Holy See.

Gianluigi Torzi, an Italian middleman who was involved in the Vatican buying out a minority investment in a large central London building in 2018, was arrested on suspicion of extortion, embezzlement, aggravated fraud and money laundering on Friday, the Vatican said in a statement.

Officials inside the Vatican’s Secretariat of State, its central administrative arm, had made a minority investment in 60 Sloane Avenue, the London building, in 2014 through a Luxembourg-based investment fund before purchasing the building outright in November 2018, in a deal in which Mr Torzi worked as a middleman and received a commission. 

In a statement the Vatican said its prosecutors had on Friday evening issued a warrant against Mr Torzi after interviewing him. The warrant was issued: “in relation to the well-known events connected with the sale of the London property on Sloane Avenue”.

“The accused is charged with various episodes of extortion, embezzlement, aggravated fraud and self laundering, crimes for which the Vatican Law provides for sentences of up to 12 years imprisonment. At present, Mr Gianluigi Torzi is detained in special premises at the Gendarmerie Corps Barracks.” 

Mr Torzi’s Italian lawyers said their client had not committed any wrongdoing, had fully co-operated with Vatican investigators, and said the arrest was the result of a “misunderstanding”.

“We believe that this measure is the result of a major misunderstanding caused by allegations that may have misinterpreted a correct interpretation of the case by the investigators,” they said in a statement.

“Mr Torzi never intended to act against the interests of the Holy See and from the beginning of this investigation . . . he showed constant willingness towards the investigators to reconstruct the facts by producing dozens of documents, memoirs and, finally, with yesterday’s interrogation, which lasted no less than eight hours, to which our client came specially from abroad.”

It is very rare for Holy See authorities, which operate under the sovereign jurisdiction of the Vatican, to arrest and hold an Italian citizen who is not an employee of the Vatican. The investigation into the investment in 60 Sloane Avenue, in a complex transaction worth hundreds of millions of pounds, became public in October last year when its police raided the offices of the Secretariat of State. 

The Secretariat of State made its initial investment in the London property in 2014 using money it held in two Swiss banks, not from funds held within the Vatican’s own property manager or bank.

Last October five Holy See officials were suspended and computers and documents were seized from the offices of the Secretariat of State and the Vatican’s financial regulator.

In February Vatican police raided the residence of Alberto Perlasca, a priest and senior official, who worked inside the Secretariat of State at the time of the transactions.

Earlier this month Credit Suisse froze a Swiss-based bank account linked to the transaction on the request of the Vatican, people familiar with the situation said.

Credit Suisse said: “Credit Suisse is not subject to the ongoing
investigation conducted by the Vatican, but is co-operating with the
authorities in compliance with the regulations in force.”

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