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Saturday, Apr 17, 2021

Vatican official ‘offered call girl as thank you for £300m Chelsea property deal’

Vatican official ‘offered call girl as thank you for £300m Chelsea property deal’

A Vatican official allegedly offered a businessman the services of a call girl as they negotiated the Holy See’s £300 million purchase of a landmark London property, according to a High Court ruling.
Gianluigi Torzi claimed that Fabrizio Tirabassi, a senior lay official involved in the acquisition of an office block in Chelsea, also threatened his life and openly boasted of blackmailing senior clergymen in Rome. Torzi, 42, who was a middleman on the property deal, said in written evidence that he was so concerned by the behaviour of the official that he reported it to Pope Francis during a private meeting.

The claims about the Vatican’s foray into the prime London property market appear in a judgment published this week that lifted freezing orders on Torzi’s bank accounts that were imposed at the Vatican’s request.

Judge Tony Baumgartner dismissed the restraint orders on Torzi, who denies charges of embezzlement, fraud, extortion and money laundering. He said that the Vatican had failed to disclose documents and misrepresented the facts in ways that were “so appalling that the ultimate sanction of discharge [of the freezing orders] is justified”.

The judge added that he was not making findings of fact on any of the matters alleged but said: “I do not consider there is reasonable cause to believe Mr Torzi has benefited from criminal conduct.”

The ruling is a blow to the Vatican’s claims that it had been defrauded of tens of millions of pounds when it bought 60 Sloane Avenue, a block close to Harrods and earmarked for development into luxury flats. The controversy has led to senior Vatican figures being removed from their posts and police raids on the state’s financial regulator. The Pope has criticised “suspicious financial situations, which aside from their possible unlawfulness are not in keeping with the nature and purpose of the church”.

The Vatican believes that it was cheated when it paid £300 million for the building in 2018 and claims that the property fetched £129 million in 2012. The judge pointed out that the Vatican failed to mention that the value had risen sharply after planning permission for residential use was granted.

The Vatican alleges that Torzi was part of a conspiracy with Tirabassi, the senior cleric Monsignor Alberto Perlasca, 60, and the London financier Raffaello Mincione to defraud the Holy See.
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