Senior cardinal convicted of embezzlement in historic Vatican fraud trial

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Cardinal Angelo Becciu, who denies accusations against him, was fired by Pope Francis in 2020 [File: Remo Casilli/Reuters]

For the first time in the history of the Catholic Church, a cardinal has been sentenced to prison by a Vatican court.

Cardinal Angelo Becciu, the most senior Catholic Church official ever to stand trial before a Vatican criminal court, has been convicted of embezzlement and sentenced to five-and-a-half years in jail.

The Italian prelate’s lawyer, Fabio Viglione, told reporters in the courtroom on Saturday that he would appeal, saying his client was innocent.

Becciu, 75, who lives in the Vatican, was expected to remain free for the time being.

In all, 10 defendants were accused of crimes including fraud, abuse of office and money laundering. All had denied wrongdoing.

Becciu, like most of the other defendants, was convicted on some counts and acquitted of others. Only one was acquitted of all charges.

London building sold for $153m loss

Becciu, a former adviser to Pope Francis and once considered a papal contender himself, is the first-ever cardinal to be prosecuted in the Vatican’s criminal court and the most senior clergyman in the Catholic Church to face justice in the tiny city-state.

The trial, which began in July 2021, played out in 85 hearings. It revolved mostly around a messy purchase of a building in London by the Secretariat of State, the Vatican’s key administrative and diplomatic department.

Becciu held the number two position there in 2014 when it began investing in a fund managed by Italian financier Raffaele Mincione, securing about 45 percent of the building at 60 Sloane Avenue.

In 2018, by which time Becciu had moved to another Vatican job, the Secretariat of State felt it was being deceived by Mincione and turned to another financier, Gianluigi Torzi, for help in squeezing Mincione out and buying the rest of the building.

Torzi also fleeced the Vatican, according to prosecutors who have charged both men with fraud, corruption and embezzlement.

Under a cloud of embarrassment, the Vatican sold the building last year, taking an estimated loss of about 140 million euros ($153m).

Other charges

The trial has shone a light on the Holy See’s murky finances, which Pope Francis has sought to clean up since taking the helm of the Catholic Church in March 2013. It is also a test of his reforms of Vatican justice.

Just weeks before the trial, Francis gave the Vatican’s civilian courts the power to try cardinals and bishops. Previously, they were judged by a court presided over by cardinals.

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Becciu, who was fired by Pope Francis from his second job in 2020 for alleged nepotism but who remains a cardinal, has also been accused on charges related to the investigation.

These include funnelling money and contracts to companies or charitable organisations controlled by his brothers on their native island of Sardinia; and making payments to Cecilia Marogna, a Sardinian woman also on trial, for what Becciu claimed was a project to help secure the release of a nun kidnapped in Mali.

SOURCE: NEWS AGENCIES

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