ROME – An Italian appeals court has definitively annulled the pre-trial arrest warrant for the prime suspect in the Vatican’s big fraud and embezzlement trial, signaling an end to extradition procedures in Britain for now, his legal team said Wednesday.
The decision by Rome’s Tribunal of Review is a blow to Italian prosecutors but also to Vatican prosecutors, who had been trying to bring Gianluigi Torzi back to Italy to eventually stand trial in the Vatican for his role in the Holy See's costly London real estate deal.
The Vatican doesn’t have an extradition treaty with Britain. But the city state’s prosecutors provided evidence to their Italian counterparts who launched their own investigation into Torzi’s finances and sought his arrest on an international warrant to stand trial in Italy on charges including tax evasion and money laundering.
The London-based Torzi denies wrongdoing in both the Italian and Vatican cases, which will nevertheless proceed in his absence.
The case in Italy was launched after Vatican prosecutors had already been investigating Torzi for his role in the Holy See's bungled 350 million-euro investment in a London residential property. Vatican prosecutors have accused Torzi of trying to extort the Vatican of 15 million euros to turn over full ownership of the property.
The Vatican tribunal indicted him in July, but his status in the trial has been in limbo because of the extradition proceedings between Italy and Britain and the legitimacy of the Italian arrest warrant that launched them.
Italy’s highest court, the Court of Cassation, had annulled the warrant in October and sent the case back to the appeals court on the grounds that Italian prosecutors hadn’t provided full documentation beneficial to Torzi’s defense when the judge was deciding whether to issue the warrant. After evaluating that missing evidence, the Tribunal for Review definitively annulled the warrant, said a statement from Torzi’s lawyers Marco Franco and Ambra Giovene.
“Finally, justice has been done concerning an arrest warrant that had no juridical or logical sense,” the statement said. The lawyers said they would now fight both the Italian and the Vatican cases “with the necessary serenity.”
The preliminary phase of the Vatican trial has been dominated by defense motions demanding access to the full scope of evidence gathered by prosecutors, including forensic copies of data from seized cellphones, computers and other electronic devices.
During the last hearing, Judge Giuseppe Pignatone ordered Vatican prosecutors turn over the material by Jan. 31 after defense lawyers complained they only had copies of 16 of the 255 devices seized.
In a Jan. 31 filing obtained Wednesday, prosecutors refused to hand over any more, saying what had been turned over to date “reproduces in full the documentary compendium” of material necessary for the trial. Defense lawyers say they have the right to all the material seized.
Pignatone will likely take up the matter when the trial reconvenes on Feb. 18, but legal experts say there's no disciplinary recourse in the Vatican's legal system when prosecutors refuse to implement a court order.