Cardinal on trial as Vatican financial scandal resumes
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Vatican City (AFP)
The trial of a once powerful Catholic cardinal and nine others resumes Tuesday at the Vatican over alleged financial fraud and a disastrous London real estate deal paid for with charitable funds.
Cardinal Angelo Becciu, who was the equivalent of Pope Francis’ chief of staff at the time of the deal and was later fired from another post, is on trial alongside senior London financiers and other employees of the Church.
They are accused of crimes, including embezzlement, fraud and corruption related to the Church’s purchase at a loss of luxury property in London’s upscale Chelsea district.
Becciu was at the time number two in the Secretariat of State, the most powerful department in the Vatican’s central administration.
The case against the 73-year-old, which charges embezzlement, abuse of power and witness tampering, also includes separate allegations of hundreds of thousands of euros in Church funds donated to his brother’s charity.
The trial is unprecedented as it took place before a Vatican tribunal made up of three lay magistrates rather than a religious tribunal, after Francis changed the law to deprive cardinals and bishops of their legal privileges.
Becciu, one of only two defendants who attended a preliminary hearing in July in the temporary courtroom of the Vatican Museums, insists he will prove his innocence “on every charge”.
The trial, which is expected to last for months, follows a two-year investigation into how the State Secretariat handled its vast portfolio of assets and, in particular, who knew what about the disastrous € 350m (now $ 407 million) London investment.
Since becoming pope in 2013, Francis has been committed to cleaning up the Church’s finances.
The scandal is particularly embarrassing as funds used for risky ventures like the one in London came from Peter’s Pence, money donated by worshipers for the Pope’s charities.
– Risky investments –
Ahead of the trial, prosecutors painted a picture of risky investments with little or no oversight, and double-dealing with outside consultants and insiders in whom the Secretary of State’s financial interests were vested.
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”, they argued.
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 stock market purchases and the rest for part of the Sloane Avenue building in London.
Prosecutors allege Mincione 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.
Another London-based financier, Gianluigi Torzi, was asked to negotiate the purchase of the rest of the building and sever ties with Mincione. But he is accused of having joined forces with him instead.
Torzi allegedly inserted a clause in the sale agreement that would give him control of the building through voting rights. He is accused of having demanded 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 by employee Fabrizio Tirabassi, both prosecuted for fraud.
Also involved are two former senior officials of the Vatican’s financial watchdog, including its ex-president, Swiss lawyer René Bruelhart, who prosecutors say has not done enough to protect the interests of the Secretariat. .
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