Extradition request discharged by High Court for Vatican-based fraud

An order for an Italian man’s extradition to stand trial on Vatican-linked fraud charges in Italy has been discharged by the High Court. Gianluigi Torzi was accused of laundering €15m he had allegedly extorted from the Vatican in a high-value London property deal.

The subject of simultaneous prosecutions in both the Vatican City State and in Rome, Mr. Torzi was invited to help the Vatican complete its purchase of no. 60 Sloane Avenue in Chelsea for a reported €350m. Although the Vatican agreed to and paid him €15m for his services on legal advice, it later claimed that this had in fact been an act of extortion. The Italian courts accused Mr. Torzi of laundering this fee in various investments in Italy.

Represented in extradition proceedings by Ben Cooper QC and Malcolm Hawkes, Mr. Torzi argued that there was no basis to allege any extortion: the Vatican had freely entered into an agreement with him to broker the property deal, even if the funds the Vatican used – Peter’s Pence – should never have been used for that purpose. The €15m represented an agreed fee after months of negotiations which even included a personal meeting between Mr. Torzi and Pope Francis himself.

It was argued that without a ‘predicate’ criminal offence of extortion in the Vatican, there could be no laundering offence committed in Italy and no basis for extradition.

In earlier restraint proceedings at the Southwark Crown Court, which the Vatican sought to keep secret, HHJ Baumgartner sharply criticised the Vatican’s chief prosecutor, the Promotor of Justice, Alessandro Diddi for material non-disclosure and making ‘appalling’ misrepresentations; he found the Vatican’s overall conduct had been so egregious that any restraint order issued against Mr. Torzi would make a mockery of the process.

Mr. Torzi argued that the Italian extradition request was issued on the basis of similar misrepresentations: the Vatican had unfairly presented its case to their Italian counterparts, while the Italian prosecutors had wrongly excluded Mr. Torzi’s detailed defence to the allegations in order to secure an Italian arrest warrant and extradition request to the UK. On 1 February 2022, the Tribunal of Rome quashed the arrest warrant which formed the basis for the extradition request leading to his discharge in the UK.

In Italy v Torzi, Ben Cooper QC and Malcolm Hawkes were instructed by James Mullion of Janes Solicitors and Francesco Meduri of Fidlaw Solicitors