Cardinal among 10 indicted by Vatican for financial crimes
VATICAN CITY, July 3 (Reuters) – A prominent Italian cardinal was among 10 people tried Saturday at the Vatican for financial crimes, including embezzlement, money laundering, fraud, extortion and abuse of power.
Cardinal Angelo Becciu, a former senior official in the Vatican administration, along with two senior officials from the Vatican’s Financial Intelligence Unit will stand trial on July 27 in a multi-million euro scandal involving the Vatican purchase of a building in one of the districts of London. most chic neighborhoods.
The trial will inevitably spark a whirlwind of media interest in the tiny city-state surrounded by Rome, and appears to underscore Pope Francis‘ determination to remedy the crumbling Vatican finances, even if it involves messy public hearings.
Becciu, 73, who the pope sacked from his clerical post last year for alleged nepotism, and who has consistently claimed his innocence in a two-year investigation, becomes the top Vatican official to be charged with financial crimes.
The Pope personally gave the required approval last week for Becciu to be indicted, according to a 487-page indictment request seen by Reuters. The Vatican announced the indictments in a two-page statement.
The charges against Becciu include embezzlement and abuse of power. An Italian woman who worked for him was accused of embezzlement and the cardinal’s former secretary, Father Mauro Carlino, was accused of extortion.
Becciu said in a statement that he had been the victim of a “conspiracy” and reaffirmed his “absolute innocence”.
Carlino’s lawyer said his client was innocent, “acted on orders” and saved the Vatican millions of euros. He said starting a trial so early did not give defense lawyers enough time to prepare.
Two Italian brokers, Gianluigi Torzi and Raffaele Mincione, have been charged with embezzlement, fraud and money laundering. Torzi, for whom Italian magistrates issued an arrest warrant in April, has also been charged with extortion.
There was no immediate response to attempts to reach their lawyers, but both men have consistently denied any wrongdoing.
Four companies associated with individual defendants, two in Switzerland, one in the United States and one in Slovenia, were also indicted, according to the document.
The investigation into the purchase of the building became public on October 1, 2019, when the Vatican police raided the offices of the Secretariat of State, the administrative heart of the Catholic Church, and those of the Authority of Vatican Financial Information (AIF).
Then AIF President RenÃ© Bruelhart, 48, Swiss, and former Italian AIF Director Tommaso Di Ruzza, 46, were charged with abuse of office for allegedly failing to adequately protect the interests of the Vatican and to have given Torzi what the indictment called an “undue advantage”.
Di Ruzza has also been charged with embezzlement in connection with the alleged inappropriate use of his official credit card and with disclosure of confidential information.
Bruelhart said in a text message that he had “always performed my duties and duties fairly” and that “the truth about my innocence will emerge”.
Di Ruzza did not immediately respond to a voicemail requesting comment.
In 2014, the Secretary of State invested more than 200 million euros, largely from contributions from worshipers, in a fund managed by Mincione, securing about 45% of a commercial and residential building at 60 Sloane Avenue in the district of South Kensington in London.
The indictment claim indicated that Mincione had attempted to deceive the Vatican, which in 2018 attempted to end the relationship.
He turned to Torzi for help buying the rest of the building, but later accused him of extortion.
At the time, Becciu was in his final year as Assistant Secretary of State for General Affairs, a powerful administrative post that manages hundreds of millions of euros.
In total, the Secretariat of State has invested more than 350 million euros in the investment, according to Vatican media, and suffered what Cardinal George Pell, the former Vatican treasurer, told Reuters l last year as “huge losses”.
Torzi was arrested at the Vatican in June 2020 and spent a week in detention.
According to the indictment request, Becciu is charged with five counts of embezzlement, two of abuse of office and one count of inciting a witness to perjure. About 75 pages of the document are devoted to Becciu.
He says Becciu tried to “strongly hijack” the investigation into the Vatican’s investments, including the London building, and tried to discredit the investigating judges via Italian media.
Becciu continued to influence money transfers to the Secretariat even after leaving his post, according to the document.
The main charges against Becciu concern the alleged transfer of money and contracts to companies or charities controlled by his brothers on their native island of Sardinia.
Another Sardinian, Cecilia Marogna, 40, who worked for Becciu, has been charged with embezzlement. His cell phone was not connected.
The request for an indictment indicated that she had received approximately 575,000 euros from the Secretary of State in 2018-2019.
She told Italian television that the money, sent to her company in Slovenia, was intended to ransom kidnapped missionaries in Africa. But the indictment said much of it was being used for “personal benefits,” including the purchase of luxury goods.
Additional reporting by Elvira Pollina in Milan; Editing by Kevin Liffey
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