Vatican trial opens with financial scandal shaking papacy

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A cardinal who allegedly incited an underling to lie to prosecutors. Brokers and lawyers who took a quick shot at Vatican # 2 to get them to approve a disastrous real estate deal. A self-proclaimed intelligence analyst who bought Prada and Louis Vuitton items with Vatican money she was supposed to send to rebels holding a Catholic nun hostage.

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Vatican prosecutors have alleged a series of breathtaking scandals in the largest criminal trial in modern Vatican history, which opens Tuesday in a modified courtroom in the Vatican Museums. The once powerful cardinal and nine others are accused of bleeding tens of millions of dollars in donations from the Holy See through bad investments, transactions with shady fund managers, and apparent favors to friends and family. family. They face jail time, fines, or both if found guilty.

The trial, which will likely be postponed for several months after the first hearings on Tuesday and Wednesday, is the culmination of a two-year investigation into the Holy See’s flawed, £ 350million London real estate business. This operation exposed the Vatican’s once-secret financial dealings and its structural dysfunction, which only allowed a few people to do so much harm to the Vatican’s finances and reputation, with little expertise or oversight.

But the prosecutors’ case also suggests that Pope Francis and his senior lieutenants were not only aware of some of the key transactions, but in some cases explicitly authorized them, even without full documentation or understanding the details. Given the hierarchical nature of the Holy See and the obedience required of underlings to their religious superiors, questions also remain as to why some people have been charged and others not.

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A Vatican Monsignor who until recently was viewed by prosecutors as a key suspect, Monsignor Alberto Perlasca, managed to avoid indictment. Perlasca’s office handled the investment in London from start to finish and his boss had identified him as the main internal culprit by hiding the costly outcome of the deal. But prosecutors have suggested Perlasca turned around and became an important witness, in part after being pressured to retract his testimony by the only cardinal on trial, Angelo Becciu.

Francis, who as absolute monarch exercises supreme legislative, executive and judicial power in Vatican City, has already condemned Becciu in many ways.

Last year Francis presented Becciu with proof that he had sent 100,000 euros in Vatican funds to a Sardinian charity run by Becciu’s brother. Francis secured Becciu’s resignation as head of the Vatican’s office of saints, then stripped him of his rights as cardinal, a sanction that was immediately announced by the Vatican press office.

Becciu, who is accused of embezzlement and pressuring Perlasca to retract, has denied any wrongdoing.

A former chief of staff at the Vatican Secretariat of State, Becciu is also linked to a mysterious figure also on trial, Cecilia Marogna, whom he hired in 2016 as an external security consultant. Prosecutors allege that Marogna embezzled € 575,000 of Vatican funds that Becciu had authorized for ransoms in order to free Catholic hostages. Bank statements from his Slovenian shell company show that Vatican bank transfers were used instead to pay bills at upscale boutiques and boutique hotels. Marogna says the money was legitimate compensation and reimbursement for his intelligence-related expenses.

The London real estate deal dates back to 2014, when the Vatican Secretariat of State decided to invest 200 million euros in a fund managed by Italian businessman Raffaele Mincione, with half of the money being put in the London building, the other half in other investments.

As of November 2018, the initial investment had lost 18 million euros, prosecutors said, prompting the Vatican to seek an exit strategy while retaining its stake in the building in London’s upscale Chelsea district.

Enter Gianluigi Torzi, another broker, who helped organize a payment of 40 million euros to Mincione.

But prosecutors say Torzi then deceived the Holy See by secretly restructuring 1,000 shares of the property’s new holding company in a way that gives it full voting rights. Prosecutors say Torzi then extorted 15 million euros from the Vatican to take control of the building he believed he had already acquired.

Mincione and Torzi, who are accused of fraud, money laundering, embezzlement and other charges, have denied any wrongdoing.

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Becciu’s successor as chief of staff, Archbishop Edgar Pena Parra, told prosecutors that Francis made it clear in November 2018 that he wanted to lose as little money as possible to finally get ownership of the building and ” turn the page and start over “. It was a message that Francis repeated to Torzi himself during a meeting in January 2019, Pena Parra told prosecutors.

After realizing that Torzi was actually in control of the building and based on Francis’ desire to move forward, Pena Parra said the Vatican had two choices. They had to sue him or pay him for the 1,000 voting shares he owned. Pena Parra said the Vatican’s concern was that suing him could take years and even eventually end in Torzi’s favor.

“Between these two options, with the advice of lawyers and experts, option 2 was chosen because it was considered more economical, with more contained risks and within a more manageable time frame,” wrote Pena Parra in her testimony seen by The Associated. Hurry. “He also simply aligned himself with the Superior’s desire,” a reference to Francis.

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And yet, the payment of 15 million euros to Torzi is at the heart of the matter. Prosecutors accuse Torzi of extorting the Vatican for the money and the Vatican’s financial monitoring agency of failing to terminate the deal. Surveillance officials say the Vatican had no choice but to pay Torzi, given that the Secretariat of State – knowingly or not – signed legally binding contracts that gave Torzi control of the building.

Prosecutors say Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin was tricked into approving Torzi’s contract by a lawyer who wrote a one-page note outlining the deal but omitted key details, including the participation of Torzi. Pena Parra said it was only later that the Vatican realized the lawyer was associated with Torzi. Citing Parolin’s own notes, Pena Parra said the cardinal approved the deal based on the brief memo from Perlasca’s lawyer and assurances and another Vatican fund manager Fabrizio Tirabassi.

Parolin, Pena Parra and Perlasca have not been charged. Tirabassi is charged with corruption, extortion, embezzlement, fraud and abuse of power; he denies any wrongdoing.

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