Vatican judge has charged 10 people, including a once powerful cardinal, with embezzlement, abuse of power, extortion and fraud in connection with a 350 million euros ($ 415 million) investment in a real estate business Londoner.
Vatican Criminal Court President Giuseppe Pignatone has set July 27 as the date for the trial, according to a Vatican press release on Saturday.
The indictments came following a sprawling two-year investigation into how the Secretary of State was managing its vast portfolio of assets, much of which is funded by Peter’s Pence donations from the faithful .
The scandal resulted in a sharp cut in donations and prompted Pope Francis to strip the office of its ability to manage money.
Five former Vatican officials, including Cardinal Giovanni Angelo Becciu and two officials from the Secretariat of State, have been indicted, along with Italian businessmen who managed the London investment.
An Italian intelligence expert accused of buying luxury goods with money from the Holy See to help free the Catholics held hostage was also charged with embezzlement charges.
Vatican prosecutors accuse prime suspects of stealing millions of euros from the Holy See in fees and other losses related to financial investments largely funded by donations to the Pope for charity. The suspects denied any wrongdoing.
One of the main suspects in the case, Italian broker Gianluigi Torzi, is accused of extorting 15 million euros ($ 17.8 million) 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 acquire full ownership of the building from another indicted fund manager who handled the initial investment in 2013 but lost money on what the Vatican has qualified as speculative and reckless investments.
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 the 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 have produced evidence suggesting that Vatican hierarchs were deceived by Torzi and helped in part by an Italian lawyer – who was also indicted on Saturday – to agree to the deal.
Torzi denied the charges and said the charges were the result of a misunderstanding.
He is currently in London awaiting an extradition request from Italian authorities, who seek to prosecute him on related charges.
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 Vatican holy leader last year, apparently in connection with a separate issue: his donation of 100,000 euros ($ 180,000) in Holy See funds to a diocesan charity run by Becciu’s brother.
Vatican News, the internal media portal, said Becciu was not originally part of the London investigation but was included in May 2020 after it emerged he was behind the proposal to ‘buy the building.
Prosecutors also accuse him of interfering in the investigation by allegedly trying to have his story altered by one of the witnesses.
In a statement released on Saturday by his lawyers, Becciu insisted on the “absolute falsity” of the accusations against him 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.
“Only by viewing this great injustice as a test of faith can I find the strength to wage this battle for the truth.”
Becciu has denied any wrongdoing in investing in London; he admitted to making the donation but insisted the money was for the charity, not his brother.
One of Becciu’s proteges, Cecilia Marogna, has been charged with embezzlement.
Becciu had hired Marogna as an external consultant after she contacted him in 2015 with concerns about the security of Vatican embassies in global hotspots.
Becciu authorized him hundreds of thousands of euros in funds from the Holy See to free Catholic hostages, 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 said the money transferred to him was compensation for legitimate security and intelligence work and reimbursement for his expenses.
Vatican News, citing the indictment, said she spent the money on purchases inconsistent with the humanitarian scope of her business.
The two former senior officials of the Vatican’s financial monitoring agency have also been charged with alleged abuse of power.
The watchdog had in fact launched an international investigation into the London deal months before Vatican prosecutors.
But prosecutors say that by not stopping the Torzi deal, they performed a “decisive function” in letting it unfold, Vatican News said.