Vatican charges 10, including cardinal, in London affair

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A Vatican judge on Saturday indicted 10 people, including a once powerful cardinal, with embezzlement, abuse of power, extortion and fraud in connection with the Secretary of State’s 350 million euro investment in a real estate company Londoner.

Vatican Criminal Court President Giuseppe Pignatone has set July 27 as the date for the trial, although lawyers for some defendants have wondered how they could prepare for the trial so soon given they have yet to officially received the indictment.

The 487-page indictment request was released following a sprawling two-year investigation into how the Secretariat of State was managing its vast portfolio of assets, much of which is funded by the gifts from the faithful. The scandal of his multi-million dollar losses led to a sharp cut in donations and prompted Pope Francis to strip the office of its ability to manage money.

FILE - In this file photo from Friday, September 25, 2020, Cardinal Angelo Becciu looks down as he meets the media at a press conference in Rome.  (AP Photo / Gregorio Borgia, File)
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FILE – In this file photo from Friday, September 25, 2020, Cardinal Angelo Becciu looks down as he meets the media at a press conference in Rome. (AP Photo / Gregorio Borgia, File)

Five former Vatican officials, including Cardinal Angelo Becciu and two officials from the Secretariat of State, were indicted, along with the Italian businessmen who managed the investment.

Vatican prosecutors accuse prime suspects of stealing millions of euros from the Holy See in fees, bad investments and other losses related to financial transactions that were largely funded by Peter’s Pence donations to the Pope for charitable works. The suspects denied any wrongdoing.

One of the main suspects, the Italian broker Gianluigi Torzi, is accused of having extorted 15 million euros from the Vatican to cede ownership of the London building at the end of 2018. Torzi had been retained by the Vatican to help him with acquire full ownership of the building. of another indicted fund manager who handled the initial investment in 2013 but lost millions in what the Vatican says were speculative and reckless deals.

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Vatican prosecutors allege Torzi inserted a last-minute clause into the contract giving him full voting rights in the deal.

The Vatican hierarchy, however, signed the contract, with both Pope’s number 2, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, and his deputy approving it. Neither has been charged. Moreover, Francis himself was aware of the deal and Torzi’s involvement in it.

Vatican prosecutors say the Vatican hierarchy was deceived by Torzi and helped in part by an Italian lawyer – who was also indicted on Saturday – to agree to the terms. The Secretariat of State intends to declare itself an injured party in the case.

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Torzi denied the charges and said the charges were due to a misunderstanding. He is currently in London awaiting an extradition request from the Italian authorities, who seek to prosecute him for other financial charges. Its representatives said they had no immediate comment on Saturday as they had yet to see the indictment.

A former pope candidate and Holy See official, Cardinal Angelo Becciu, has also been indicted, who helped organize London’s initial investment when he was chief of staff at the Secretary of State.

Francis sacked him as the Holy Head of the Vatican last year, apparently as part of a separate issue: Becciu’s donation of 100,000 euros of Holy See funds to a diocesan charity run by his brother.

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Becciu was originally not part of the London investigation, but was included after it emerged he was behind the proposal to buy the building, prosecutors say, alleging that he had also interfered in the investigation.

In a statement released on Saturday by his lawyers, Becciu insisted on the “absolute falsity” of the accusations and denounced what he called an “unprecedented media pillory” against him in the Italian press.

“I am the victim of a plot hatched against me. And I have waited a long time to know the charges against me, to allow myself to quickly deny them and to prove to the world my absolute innocence,” he said.

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One of Becciu’s proteges, so-called intelligence analyst Cecilia Marogna, has been charged with several counts of embezzlement. Becciu had hired Marogna as an external consultant after she contacted him in 2015 with concerns about security at Vatican embassies in global hot spots. Becciu authorized him hundreds of thousands of euros in funds from the Holy See to free Catholic priests and nuns held hostage in Africa, according to WhatsApp messages reprinted by Italian media.

His Slovenia-based holding company, which received the funds, was among the four companies also sentenced to trial.

Marogna says the money was compensation for legitimate intelligence work and refunds. Prosecutors say she spent the money on luxury purchases inconsistent with the humanitarian scope of her business.

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In a statement released on Saturday, her legal team said Marogna had been prepared for months “to provide a full account of her work and has no fear of the charges against her.”

The two former senior officials of the Vatican’s financial monitoring agency have also been charged with alleged abuse of power. Prosecutors say that by not stopping the Torzi deal, they performed a “decisive function” in letting it unfold.

The lawyer for the former director of the office, Tommaso di Ruzza, said he had only seen the Vatican press release on the allegations, but insisted that his client “always acted in the the most scrupulous respect for the law and its office duties, in the exclusive interest of the Holy See. “

Former bureau chief René Bruelhart defended his work and said his indictment was a “procedural fault which will be immediately cleared up by the Vatican justice bodies as soon as the defense can exercise its rights.”

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Former Secretary of State Monsignor Mauro Carlino said he was shocked by his indictment of extortion and abuse of power, saying his only involvement in the deal was after he was ordered by his superiors to negotiate Torzi against 20 million euros to 15 million euros.

“It seems incomprehensible that a dignified act (…) which brought him no personal advantage and had on the contrary provided a significant saving for the Secretary of State, could lead to an indictment,” said a statement. of his lawyer, Salvino Mondello.

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