Cardinal says he is ‘serene’ and ‘tranquil in my conscience’ as Vatican corruption trial begins with Pope Francis’s former right-hand man accused over £300million Chelsea property deal
- Vatican prosecutors allege ten defendants, engaged in various crimes
- Former right-hand man to Pope Francis, Angelo Becciu, says he is innocent
- Cardinal Becciu told reporters he remains ‘obedient’ to Pope Francis
- He said: ‘He wanted me to be on trial, and I’m coming to the trial. I’m serene.’
A cardinal said he felt ‘tranquil in my conscience’ as a fraud and embezzlement trial over alleged mismanagement of the Holy See’s investments began today.
Vatican prosecutors allege that ten defendants, including high-rolling London financiers and church employees, engaged in various crimes such as embezzlement, fraud and corruption.
The former right-hand man to Pope Francis Angelo Becciu, who says he is the innocent victim of a plot, is the highest-profile defendant embroiled in the Church’s ruinous purchase of a 17,000-sq metre London property in the upmarket neighbourhood of Chelsea under his watch.
Cardinal Angelo Becciu, one of two defendants who attended the largely procedural, seven-hour session today, told reporters he remains ‘obedient’ to Pope Francis, who stripped his privileges to bring him before the tribunal.
‘He wanted me to be on trial, and I’m coming to the trial. I’m serene. I feel tranquil in my conscience,’ Cardinal Becciu said.
The former cardinal Angelo Becciu, who says he is the innocent victim of a plot, is the highest-profile defendant embroiled in the Church’s ruinous purchase of a 17,000-sq metre London property in the upmarket neighbourhood of Chelsea under his watch
President Giuseppe Pignatone (C), Professor Venerando Marano (L), Director of the Department of Law at the University of Rome ‘Tor Vergata’ and Carlo Bonzano, Professor of Criminal Procedural Law at the University of Rome ‘Tor Vergata’ during the trial for alleged financial wrongdoing of Senior cardinal Angelo Becciu and nine others, in the Vatican on July 27, 2021
Becciu, a former longtime Vatican diplomat, is charged with embezzlement, abusing his office and with pressing a monsignor to recant information he gave to prosecutors about the handling of disastrous real estate deal involving properties in London.
The 73-year-old prelate, who was elevated to cardinal by Francis in 2018 but later dismissed by the pope from his later post in charge of the church’s saint-making office, has denied any wrongdoing.
During the first day of the trial, defense lawyers lamented they hadn’t had time to digest about 28,000 pages of documents recently released by Vatican prosecutors. They noted that much of the evidence from the July 3 indictments hadn’t been made available to them, apparently due to logistical problems.
Chief Judge Giuseppe Pignatone agreed, setting the next hearing for October 5.
A former Rome chief prosecutor, Pignatone earlier had spent years investigating the Mafia in Sicily and criminal economic activity.
The case against Becciu, the former right-hand man to Pope Francis (pictured), which carries charges of embezzlement, abuse of office and witness tampering, also includes separate allegations over hundreds of thousands of euros of church funds paid to his brother’s charity
The Vatican, an independent city state, has a tiny courtroom, as well as its own jail. But to accommodate all the defendants, lawyers and journalists for what is the largest trial in the Holy See’s modern history, the case was moved to a hall that is part of the Vatican Museums.
A 487-page indictment released earlier this month sheds light on hefty bank transfers, text messages between collaborators from seized cellphones – even bags of money changing hands and secret meetings in luxury hotels.
The case against Becciu, which carries charges of embezzlement, abuse of office and witness tampering, includes separate allegations over hundreds of thousands of euros of church funds paid to his brother’s charity.
The trial ensnaring the former cardinal – who was fired by the pontiff in September and stripped of his privileges as cardinal – represents the first time a cardinal has been indicted by Vatican criminal prosecutors in modern history.
The complex case alleged by prosecutors paints a picture of dubious, risky investments involving millions of dollars of Vatican money, little or no oversight, and double-dealing by outside consultants and insiders trusted with the financial interests of the Secretariat of State, the Vatican’s most important department charged with general affairs and diplomacy.
The primary defendants are ‘actors in a rotten predatory and lucrative system, sometimes made possible thanks to limited, but very incisive, complicity and internal connivance,’ wrote prosecutors.
Since becoming pope in 2013, Francis has vowed to clean up the Church’s finances, dogged for decades by scandal.
After a 2019 raid on the Secretariat’s offices by Vatican police, Francis stripped the body of oversight of its own funds, handing that responsibility to others.
The scandal is particularly embarrassing because funds used for risky ventures, including the disastrous 350-million-euro (£300million) investment in Chelsea, came from the Peter’s Pence, an annual fund for the pope’s charities.
The current case dates from 2013, when the Secretariat borrowed more than $200 million (£145million), mainly from Credit Suisse, to invest in a Luxembourg fund managed by an Italian-Swiss businessman, Raffaele Mincione. Half was intended for stock market purchases and the rest for part of the London building.
Mincione, prosecutors allege, used the money to invest in high-risk ventures over which the Church had no control. By 2018, the Secretariat had already lost millions and tried to pull out of the deal.
But another London-based financier, Gianluigi Torzi, brought in to broker the purchase of the rest of the building and cut ties with Mincione, instead joining forces with him, say prosecutors.
Vatican prosecutors allege that ten defendants, including high-rolling London financiers and church employees, engaged in various crimes such as embezzlement, fraud and corruption
By November 2018, the original investment had lost 18 million euros, prosecutors say, prompting the Vatican to seek an exit strategy while retaining its stake in the building in London’s swank Chelsea neighbourhood
Torzi arranged for the Holy See to give Mincione £40million to buy out the financier’s share of the London property, but allegedly inserted a clause into the deal that gave himself control of the building through voting rights.
Torzi is accused of demanding 15 million euros to relinquish control.
Mincione and Torzi were helped, prosecutors claim, by Enrico Crasso, a former financial consultant to the Secretariat, and employee Fabrizio Tirabassi, both of whom face charges including fraud.
Also implicated are two former top officials within the Vatican’s financial regulator, including its ex-president, Swiss lawyer Rene Bruelhart, whom prosecutors say did not do enough to protect the Secretariat’s interests.
In another twist, Becciu is accused of paying defendant Cecilia Marogna 575,000 euros (£491,500) in Vatican funds earmarked for freeing captive priests and nuns abroad that Marogna – dubbed ‘the Cardinal’s lady’ by the Italian press – spent on luxury goods and hotels.
Prosecutors claim the Vatican’s top hierarchy, including Becciu’s boss and pope ally Cardinal Pietro Parolin, were in favour of the London venture, but unaware of its financial details.
Parolin, Pena Parra and Perlasca were not charged. Tirabassi is charged with corruption, extortion, embezzlement, fraud and abuse of office; he denies wrongdoing.
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