Multi-million dollar maze: Vatican trial to test financial reforms
The alleged mismanagement of millions of dollars in church funds will bring several prominent figures to a makeshift Vatican courtroom housed in a multi-purpose hall in the Vatican Museums.
The surprise announcement on July 3 that Vatican prosecutors have indicted 10 people and entities, including Cardinal Angelo Becciu, former prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, on a series of charges related to financial mismanagement and Embezzlement was the latest twist in the seemingly endless saga of the Vatican’s controversial investment in property in London’s Chelsea.
Indictments, especially of former Vatican officials, may also prove to be a litmus test for Pope Francis’ efforts to reform Vatican finances, which have been marred by scandals over the decades.
It is also the first time in modern history that a cardinal has been among those facing a criminal trial at the Vatican.
Most of the defendants, including Cardinal Becciu, declared their innocence and said they were peacefully awaiting their appearance in court.
“Finally, the moment for clarification arrives, and the tribunal will be able to see the absolute falsity of the accusations against me and the dark plots that have clearly supported and nurtured them,” Cardinal Becciu said in a statement released by his lawyers in July. 3.
René Brülhart, former president of the Vatican financial monitoring agency, declared that he “has always carried out my functions and duties with accuracy, loyalty and in the exclusive interest of the Holy See and its organs”.
“I approach this case with serenity in the conviction that the charges against me will disappear completely,” he said shortly after the announcement of the indictment.
“I am serene and confident that the truth of the facts and my innocence will emerge and will soon be clarified by the judicial authorities of the Vatican,” said Tommaso di Ruzza, who worked with Brülhart as the former director of the Authority of the Vatican financial reporting, now known as the Financial Reporting and Supervisory Authority.
But the indictment detailing the Vatican’s extensive two-year investigation into how the Vatican Secretariat of State used more than $ 200 million to fund a real estate development project in London paints a serious and complex picture. .
For years, Cardinal Becciu defended the London property deal and insisted there was nothing wrong with buying. He has always denied that funds from the Peter’s Pence collection were used; the money, he said, came from a fund within the Secretary of State.
“I want to deny it because we haven’t used this money,” the cardinal said during a book presentation in February 2020. “Peter’s Pence was not affected; an investment has been made in a building. It was a good and timely opportunity, for which many people envy us today.
However, according to the 488-page indictment seen by Catholic News Service, funds worth an estimated $ 200.5 million held in Credit Suisse bank accounts held by the Secretary of State were transferred. to Athena Capital Global Opportunities, a Luxembourg investment fund owned by Raffaele. Mincione, who has also been charged.
The investment, according to the indictment, “was made with funds from Peter’s Pence.”
Mincione, an Italian financier based in London who owned the London property, is accused by the Vatican of embezzlement, fraud, abuse of power, embezzlement and money laundering.
According to the Vatican investigation, the money was originally intended “to subsidize an operation in the oil sector in Angola sponsored by a local entrepreneur, Antonio Mosquito, who was introduced to the Vatican environment” by the archbishop at the time, Becciu. The two met when the Italian prelate served as apostolic nuncio in Angola from 2001 to 2009.
However, when that deal collapsed, the money was used to invest in the London property of Mincione with Gianluigi Torzi, an Italian broker, serving as an intermediary in the development deal. Torzi faces several charges, including extortion of $ 17 million from the Vatican in payment for his role in negotiating the deal.
The indictment also indicated that Mgr. Alberto Perlasca, the former head of the administrative office of the Vatican Secretariat of State, provided prosecutors with a re-enactment of the events that led to London’s real estate investment.
Mgr. Perlasca was first considered a possible suspect after Vatican police seized documents, computers and even floppy disks from his home and office in 2020. However, the report says he asked to speak to investigators.
In August 2020, according to the report, Mgr. Perlasca gave his testimony and provided investigators “a valuable contribution to the re-enactment of certain central moments relating to the London property affair”.
In addition, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Secretary of State of the Vatican, and Archbishop Edgar Peña Parra, who exercises the functions of “sostituto”, the No. 3 post of the Secretariat of State, are not cited as defendants. in the trial despite the fact that both, as well as Mgr. Perlasca, had approved several key stages in the collapse of the agreement.
According to a summary of the case by Vatican News published on July 3, “neither Mgr. Perlasca, who signed the share purchase contract, nor his superiors, the substitute (Archbishop) Edgar Peña Parra, and especially Cardinal Pietro Parolin, had not been effectively informed to be fully aware of the legal effects that the various classes of shares would result. “
Speaking to reporters in Strasbourg, France, on July 4, Cardinal Parolin said that in this case the Secretariat of State “is the victim,” and he expressed his willingness to testify at the trial if one ask him.
“As an institution, we believe that we have been damaged by everything that has happened,” the cardinal told reporters. “We must defend our position and our morality”, but also “take back possession of the money”.
“If they say: ‘You are responsible for everything that happened’, I will undoubtedly have things to say, answers to give,” he said, according to La Croix, the Catholic daily. French.
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