Behind the Vatican’s London real estate scandal and charges faced by senior officials like Cardinal Angelo Becciu – ABC News
The Vatican has set the trial date for 10 people, including Cardinal Angelo Becciu, on charges related to the Holy See’s 350 million euro investment in a luxury London real estate venture.
The 487-page indictment request caps a two-year investigation exposing how the Vatican lost millions of euros — much of it donations from the faithful — in fees to brokers, bad investments and other questionable expenses.
Beyond that, prosecutors allege the defendants were variously involved in extortion, embezzlement, abuse of office and corruption for swindling millions of euros from the Holy See in fees, bad investments and other losses related to financial dealings. The suspects have denied wrongdoing.
The scandal has resulted in a sharp reduction in donations and prompted Pope Francis to strip the Secretariat of State of its ability to manage money.
Here is the breakdown of the case, the accusations and some of the key players in the trial, which is set to open on July 27.
Holy See hoodwinked by broker, prosecutors say
The Vatican’s Secretariat of State decided in 2013 to invest an initial 200 million euros in a fund operated by Italian businessman Raffaele Mincione, with half the money put into the London building, half in other investments.
By 2018, Mr Mincione’s fund, Athena Capital, had lost 18 million euros from the Vatican’s original investment, prosecutors say, prompting the Vatican to seek an exit strategy while still retaining its stake in the building in London’s swanky Chelsea neighbourhood.
Enter Gianluigi Torzi, another broker, who helped arrange a 40 million euro payout by the Vatican to Mr Mincione for the shares in the building that the Holy See didn’t already have.
But prosecutors say Mr Torzi then hoodwinked the Holy See.
Rather than creating a company to manage the building that was controlled by the Vatican, Mr Torzi inserted a clause into the contract giving him full voting rights in the deal, they allege.
Prosecutors say Mr Torzi then extorted the Vatican for 15 million euros to take control of the building.
Mr Torzi has said the charges are a misunderstanding.
Top Vatican officials, including Pope, met with Torzi
Prosecutors have acknowledged that Pope Francis was aware of the deal, and even attended a December 2018 meeting with Mr Torzi.
One witness has said the Pope agreed to pay Mr Torzi a “just” compensation to turn the building over.
Other high-ranking officials, including secretary of state Cardinal Pietro Parolin and his deputy Archbishop Edgar Pena Parra were also aware and approved the deal with Mr Torzi.
Documents show Archbishop Pena Parra had authorised one of his deputies to sign the contract with Mr Torzi, giving him full voting rights.
None of them was indicted.
Prosecutors say they didn’t understand Mr Torzi’s contract change, were kept in the dark about Mr Torzi and Mr Mincione’s dealings, their previous business relationship, as well as alleged commissions others involved in the deal had been earning on the side.
Potential future Pope charged after law change
AP: Gregorio Borgia
Cardinal Angelo Becciu is the lone cardinal indicted and will be the first cardinal prosecuted by the tribunal in the wake of Pope Francis changing Vatican law to allow laymen to judge cardinals.
Cardinal Becciu has denied any wrongdoing.
Cardinal Becciu was once one of the most powerful prelates in the Vatican and would have been a contender to be a future pope before the Pope fired him last year from his job leading the Holy See’s saint-making office.
The Pope asked him to resign in September and stripped him of his rights and privileges as a cardinal, citing a 100,000 euro donation that Cardinal Becciu made using Vatican money to a diocesan charity run by his brother.
At the time of the donation, Cardinal Becciu was the third most powerful person in the Secretariat of State and had decision-making authority over the office’s vast asset portfolio.
Cardinal Becciu is tied to another defendant in the case, Cecilia Marogna.
She is accused of allegedly embezzling Holy See funds that Cardinal Becciu authorised for her intelligence work, purportedly to free Catholic priests and nuns held hostage in hostile parts of the world.
Prosecutors say she spent the money on luxury goods instead.
Ms Marogna has denied any wrongdoing and says she can give a full accounting of how the money was spent.
Defendants could face jail time and fines
The criminal code of the Vatican city-state is based on the 1889 Italian legal code as well as elements of the canon law of the universal Catholic Church.
In recent years, the Pope has updated the code with a host of financial crimes specifically to address the types of misconduct alleged in this indictment.
The Vatican tribunal has been under pressure to prosecute financial crimes as part of the Holy See’s participation in the Council of Europe’s Moneyval process, which is aimed at helping countries fight money laundering and the financing of terrorism.
The Vatican entered into the Moneyval evaluation program more than a decade ago in a bid to shed its image as an offshore tax haven.
The Vatican has outfitted a new courtroom for the upcoming trial in part of the Vatican Museums, given its usual criminal tribunal will be too small for the defendants and their lawyers.
If convicted, the defendants could face jail time, fines or both.
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