Beginning of the trial in the “rotten” financial scandal of the Vatican
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Vatican City (AFP)
A financial scandal involving an opaque, loss-making Vatican real estate deal paid for with charitable funds is on trial Tuesday after a two-year investigation that involved a once powerful cardinal.
Vatican prosecutors allege that ten defendants, including top London financiers and church employees, have engaged in various crimes such as embezzlement, fraud and corruption.
It is not known whether former Cardinal Angelo Becciu, then number two in the powerful Secretariat of State, will appear in the makeshift courtroom at the Vatican Museums on the day the trial opens.
Becciu, 73, who claims to be the innocent victim of a conspiracy, is the most prominent defendant involved in the Church’s ruinous purchase of a 17,000 square meter London property in upscale Chelsea under his surveillance.
The case against Becciu, which brings charges of embezzlement, abuse of power and witness tampering, also includes separate allegations of hundreds of thousands of euros in church funds donated to the work. charity of his brother.
The trial of Pope Francis’ former right-hand man – who was sacked by the pontiff in September and stripped of his privileges as cardinal – marks the first time a cardinal has been indicted by Vatican criminal prosecutors in modern history .
– Bags of money –
The complex case alleged by prosecutors paints a picture of questionable and risky investments involving millions of dollars in Vatican money, little or no oversight, and double play by outside consultants and insiders with financial interests of the State Secretariat, the most important department in charge of general affairs and diplomacy.
A 487-page indictment released earlier this month sheds light on bulky bank transfers, employee-to-employee texting from seized cellphones – even bags of cash changing hands and secret meetings in private rooms. luxury hotels.
The main defendants are “actors of a rotten predatory and lucrative system, sometimes made possible thanks to a limited complicity, but very incisive, and an internal connivance”, wrote the prosecutors.
Since becoming pope in 2013, Francis has been committed to cleaning up the finances of the Church, which has been plagued by scandal for decades. After a 2019 raid on the offices of the Secretariat by the Vatican police, Francis stripped the watchdog of his own funds, handing that responsibility over to others.
The scandal is particularly embarrassing as funds used for risky ventures, including the disastrous € 350 million ($ 415 million) investment in Chelsea, came from Peter’s Pence, an annual fund for the Pope’s charities.
– Risky businesses –
The current case dates back to 2013, when the Secretariat borrowed more than $ 200 million, mainly from Credit Suisse, to invest in a Luxembourg fund managed by an Italian-Swiss businessman, Raffaele Mincione. Half was for purchases on the stock market and the rest for part of the London building.
Mincione, according to prosecutors, used the money to invest in high-risk businesses over which the Church had no control. By 2018, the Secretariat had already lost millions and attempted to withdraw from the deal.
But another London-based financier, Gianluigi Torzi, brought in to negotiate the purchase of the rest of the building and sever ties with Mincione, has partnered with him instead, prosecutors say.
Torzi arranged for the Holy See to give Mincione £ 40million to buy back the financier’s stake in the London property, but allegedly inserted a clause in the deal giving him control of the building through the voting rights.
Torzi is accused of claiming 15 million euros to cede control.
Mincione and Torzi were aided, according to prosecutors, by Enrico Crasso, a former financial consultant to the Secretariat, and employee Fabrizio Tirabassi, both of whom face fraud charges.
Also involved are two former senior officials of the Vatican financial regulator, including its ex-president, Swiss lawyer René Bruelhart, who prosecutors say has not done enough to protect the interests of the Secretariat.
In another twist, Becciu is accused of having paid the defendant Cecilia Marogna 575,000 euros in Vatican funds intended for the release of priests and nuns captive abroad that Marogna – nicknamed “the cardinal’s lady” by the Italian press – spent on luxury goods and hotels.
Prosecutors say the Vatican’s top hierarchy, including Becciu’s boss and ally of the Pope, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, was in favor of the London venture, but ignored its financial details.
© 2021 AFP