Ex-director says Pope Francis wanted Vatican financial watchdog to help close London deal

Ex-director says Pope Francis wanted Vatican financial watchdog to help close London deal

Ex-director says Pope Francis wanted Vatican financial watchdog to help close London deal.

Tommaso Di Ruzza, director of the AIF, speaks at a briefing on the authority’s annual report, alongside Alessandro Gisotti and Rene Bruelhart, May 21, 2019. / Daniel Ibanez/CNA.

Vatican City, Apr 28, 2022 / 09:05 am (CNA).

The former director of the Vatican’s internal financial watchdog said on Wednesday that he acted correctly to investigate a London property deal and had no power to stop it.

He also said that Pope Francis wanted his office to support the Secretariat of State’s negotiations in the final part of the deal.

Tommaso Di Ruzza was questioned during an April 27 hearing in the ongoing Vatican trial to prosecute 10 people on criminal charges mostly related to the Secretariat of State’s purchase of an investment property in London.

Di Ruzza worked in the Vatican from 2011 and was director of the Vatican’s Financial Information Authority (AIF) from 2016 to January 2020. The AIF was renamed the Supervisory and Financial Information Authority (ASIF) in December 2020.

Di Ruzza and former AIF president René Brülhart have been charged with abuse of office for allegedly failing to stop an agreement that “should have been considered suspicious,” according to Vatican prosecutors.

The prosecutors argue that AIF would have known that a payment of 15 million euros ($15.8 million) made to businessman Gianluigi Torzi, a sum allegedly received through extortion, was not legitimate.

When Torzi brokered the last part of the London property deal, he sold the secretariat the 30,000 majority shares in the holding company through which the building was purchased, while retaining the 1,000 shares with voting rights.

In around four hours of questioning on Wednesday, Di Ruzza explained why he did not step in to stop the last part of the deal.

Di Ruzza said that the decision about what to do about Torzi was up to the secretariat, not the AIF, and the secretariat decided the best path forward was to exit the contract with Torzi.

He said that he did not report the payment to Vatican prosecutors because there was not sufficient evidence of suspicious activity under Vatican and international norms, though his office went on to conduct “in-depth investigations” of the transaction.

Di Ruzza also testified that Pope Francis had asked him to support the secretariat’s efforts to regain control of the London property from Torzi, echoing testimony given by Brülhart during another hearing earlier this month.

During questioning on April 5, Brülhart said that both Pope Francis and Archbishop Edgar Pena Parra, the Secretariat of State’s second-in-command, wanted the deal with Torzi to be concluded “under any circumstances.”

Other witnesses in the trial have also said that Pope Francis approved the Secretariat of State’s payment which concluded the negotiations with Torzi.

The trial will continue on May 5 with the questioning of Cardinal Angelo Becciu.

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