Giovanni Angelo Becciu, former prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, pictured June 27, 2019./ Daniel Ibáñez/CNA.
Cardinal Angelo Becciu was present yesterday on the first day of a major Vatican finance trial to defend himself of charges of embezzlement and abuse of office.
Becciu is one of 10 defendants in what is the Vatican’s largest trial for financial crimes in the modern era. The cardinal is going before the Vatican tribunal for the first time since Pope Francis changed norms in April to allow cardinals and archbishops to be tried by lay judges.
In a statement through his lawyer July 27, the cardinal said he that he was “calm” and awaited the continuation of the trial in order to prove his innocence of all the accusations against him.
Cardinal Becciu, after today’s hearing, renews his confidence in the Tribunal, the impartial judge of the facts hypothesized only by the Promoter of Justice, as yet without any confrontation with the defense and with a view to the presumption of innocence,” the statement from lawyer Fabio Viglione said.
Defendant Msgr. Mauro Carlino, who worked in the Vatican’s Secretariat of State and is charged with extortion and abuse of office, was also present at the seven-hour hearing on Tuesday. The remaining eight defendants were absent but represented by their lawyers.
The hearing took place in a multipurpose room of the Vatican Museums recently adapted for use by the court. The next audience was scheduled by the court for Oct. 5 after several of the defense lawyers asked for more time to prepare.
Some 30 lawyers attended the hearing, with some making motions and raising complaints about procedural issues.
In this trial, the Vatican court of first instance is made up of a three-judge panel consisting of tribunal president Giuseppe Pignatone, and two Italian law professors: Venerando Marano and Carlo Bonzano.
According to a Vatican judge, only Italian businessman Gianluigi Torzi’s absence from the courtroom July 27 was justified, due to him being under precautionary measures in the U.K. while awaiting extradition to Italy at the request of Italian authorities.
At the center of the case on trial is the Secretariat of State’s purchase of a building at 60 Sloane Avenue in London. It was bought in stages between 2014 and 2018 from Italian businessman Raffaele Mincione, who at the time was managing hundreds of millions of euros of secretariat funds.
Vatican prosecutors maintain that the deal was problematic and designed to defraud the Secretariat of State of millions of euros.
Becciu resigned as prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints and from the rights extended to members of the College of Cardinals on Sept. 24, 2020.
The cardinal worked previously as the number two-ranking official in the Vatican’s Secretariat of State, the powerful curial department at the center of the investigation of financial malfeasance.
Msgr. Alberto Perlasca, Becciu’s former chief deputy at the Secretariat of State, was also investigated as part of the London property scandal, but is not among the defendants in this summer’s trial.
Vatican prosecutors identified Perlasca’s testimony, provided over the course of several interviews, as being important for reconstructing “some central moments” in the affair.
But at Tuesday’s hearing, a defense lawyer argued that Perlasca’s testimony from five interviews, in which he had no lawyer present, should be considered “inadmissible.”
A Vatican prosecutor argued that the depositions were legitimate because they were videotaped and “voluntary.”
Becciu said in a statement he will be suing Perlasca and Francesca Immacolata Chaouqui, another person questioned by investigators, “for slander for the very serious and completely false statements made during the investigations to the Promoter of Justice.”
The cardinal told journalists in the courtroom at the end of the hearing that he is “obedient to the pope who sent me to trial, I have always been obedient to the pope, he entrusted me with many missions in my life, he wanted me to come to trial and I am coming to the trial. I am calm, I feel calm in conscience, I have the confidence that the judges will be able to see the facts well and my great hope is the certainty that they recognize my innocence.”
Other defendants in the finance trial include several employees of the Secretariat of State: Fabrizio Tirabassi, who oversaw investments, will be tried on charges of corruption, extortion, embezzlement, fraud, and abuse of office.
Mincione has been charged with embezzlement, fraud, abuse of office, misappropriation, and self-money laundering.
Torzi, who was brought in to broker the final negotiations of the Vatican’s purchase of the London property in 2018, has been charged with extortion, embezzlement, fraud, misappropriation, money laundering, and self-money laundering.
His associate, the lawyer Nicola Squillace, faces the same charges minus extortion.
Enrico Crasso, who managed investments for the Vatican for over 25 years, was investigated on suspicions he was working together with Mincione and Tirabassi to defraud the Secretariat of State.
Crasso, who is the manager of the Centurion Global Fund in which the Holy See is the principal investor, faces the most charges: corruption, embezzlement, extortion, money laundering, self-money laundering, fraud, abuse of office, falsifying a public document, and falsifying a private document.
The Vatican has also charged three corporations owned by Crasso with fraud.
Cecilia Marogna, a self-described security consultant, is accused of embezzlement after a Vatican investigation into reports that she received hundreds of thousands of euros from the Vatican’s Secretariat of State in connection with Becciu, and that she had spent the money on luxury goods and vacations.
Marogna acknowledged receiving the money but insisted that the funds went to her Vatican security consultancy work and salary.
Marogna’s Slovenian-based company, Logsic Humanitarne Dejavnosti, D.O.O., is also being brought to trial on the charge of embezzlement.
The last two defendants are René Brülhart and Tommaso Di Ruzza, who previously led the Vatican’s internal financial watchdog.
Di Ruzza is charged with embezzlement, abuse of office, and violation of confidentiality.
Brülhart is being prosecuted for abuse of office. Both men have denied wrongdoing.