VATICAN CITY (AP) – A trial will begin Tuesday within the towering walls of Vatican City of 10 defendants, including a once powerful cardinal, in a case based on an expanding investigation into the alleged criminal management of the Holy See’s portfolio of assets, including donations from countless Catholic banks.
Among those accused is an Italian prelate, Angelo Becciu, a veteran Vatican diplomat who was elevated to cardinal status by Pope Francis in 2018. After a web of scandals began to unravel during a two-year investigation, Francis He kicked off Becciu last year as head of the Catholic Church’s Office of Sanctification. Without waiting for the final verdict of a Vatican court, Francis also removed Becciu’s rights as cardinal.
Less than three months ago, it would have been impossible for a cardinal to be in the dock in Vatican City State, which has its own justice system and even a jail. But Francis changed a Vatican law so that Vatican-based cardinals and bishops can be prosecuted and tried by the Holy See’s secular criminal court as long as the pontiff approves. Previously, Vatican cardinals could only be tried by their peers, a court of three fellow cardinals.
Becciu, 73, is charged with embezzlement and pressuring a monsignor to retract information he provided to prosecutors about the Vatican’s handling of the disastrous real estate investment in London. Becciu has denied wrongdoing.
Since a nearly 500-page indictment was issued in early July, prosecutors have produced some 30,000 pages of supplemental documentation.
Defense attorneys say they don’t have enough time to study the material.
The presiding judge, Giuseppe Pignatone, is a retired Rome chief prosecutor who early in his career faced the mafia and economic crime in Sicily.
To accommodate the largest criminal trial in modern Vatican history, hearings are held in a large hall converted into a courtroom in the Vatican Museums.
A group of reporters accredited to the Vatican are allowed to follow court proceedings, but their accounts cannot be shelved until after the day’s hearing ends.
The defendants are alleged to have played various roles in actions that effectively cost the Holy See tens of millions of dollars in donated funds through bad investments, deals with shady money managers, and alleged favors to friends and family.
The accusation highlights the London agreement approved by the Vatican Secretariat of State. An initial € 200 million (now almost $ 240 million) was invested in a fund run by an Italian businessman. Half of that money went to the real estate company in posh Chelsea, an investment that eventually cost € 350 million. By 2018, the original investment was losing money and the Vatican was quick to find an exit strategy.
The defendants include Cecilia Marogna, who was hired by Becciu as an outside security consultant. Prosecutors allege that she embezzled 575,000 euros in Vatican funds that Becciu had authorized to use as ransom to free Catholic hostages abroad. Marogna has maintained that the charges he filed were reimbursement for his intelligence-related expenses and other money was his compensation.