February 27, 2024

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Cardinal Becciu: The Vatican Court convicts the Pope’s former advisor of committing financial crimes

Cardinal Becciu: The Vatican Court convicts the Pope’s former advisor of committing financial crimes

  • By David Ghiglione in Rome and Mark Lewin, Rome correspondent
  • BBC News

Image source, Getty Images

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Cardinal Becciu intends to appeal the ruling

The Vatican Court sentenced Italian Cardinal Angelo Becciu, a former advisor to Pope Francis, to five and a half years in prison for financial crimes.

Becciu, 75, was the most senior Vatican official ever to face such charges and had previously been seen as a papal rival.

The trial focused on a real estate deal in London that ended in huge losses for the Catholic Church.

He strongly denied the accusations including embezzlement and abuse of office.

Cardinal Becciu’s lawyer said his client was innocent and would file an appeal.

He was being tried with nine other defendants. They were all convicted of some charges, and were not proven guilty of others.

The trial, which revealed infighting and conspiracies at the highest levels of the Vatican, has been ongoing for two and a half years.

After three judges spent more than five hours considering the ruling, presiding judge Giuseppe Pignatoni announced that Cardinal Becciu had been found guilty of embezzlement.

The others, including financiers, lawyers and former Vatican employees, have been accused of various crimes, including fraud, money laundering and abuse of office. All denied any wrongdoing.

Becchio’s lawyer, Fabio Viglione, said after the ruling: “We reaffirm the innocence of Cardinal Angelo Becchio and we will appeal.” “We respect the ruling, but we will certainly appeal it.”

This case – the first of its kind in which a cardinal was tried in the Vatican court – was the stuff of conspiracy and fraud. It involved allegations of financial impropriety at the top of the Vatican, clandestine activity of the kind that has often characterized the secretive world of the Holy See.

It centered around a building not in the Vatican, nor even in Rome, but a thousand kilometers away in London – 60 Sloane Street in affluent Chelsea, a former Harrods warehouse.

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Cardinal Becciu (left) was a close advisor to Pope Francis

In 2014, the Vatican spent more than €200m ($220m; £170m) to acquire a 45% stake in the building, which was to be converted into luxury apartments. By 2018, the Vatican Secretariat of State decided to purchase the entire property, spending an additional €150 million on the purchase. The whole deal was allegedly signed off on by Cardinal Becciu, who at the time was the Vatican’s surrogate for public affairs – in fact, the pope’s chief of staff.

The money, part of which was to be used for charitable causes, was paid to a fund managed by London-based Italian financier Rafael Mincioni, which coordinated the purchase. When the Secretariat later requested financial assistance from the Vatican Bank, it sparked concern – and a Vatican police raid led to charges against Becciu, Mincioni and eight others.

But the investigation into Becciu’s affairs was not limited to the London real estate deal.

The cardinal has also been accused of transferring huge sums of money to his diocese in Sardinia, some of which has reportedly benefited his family. He allegedly paid nearly €600,000 to another defendant, Cecilia Marogna, to help release a kidnapped nun in Mali. Instead, she spent a lot of money on luxury goods and vacations, prosecutors said. Marogna, who offered her services to the Vatican as an intelligence expert, visited Becciu’s residence on several occasions. They both denied allegations of a sexual relationship.

The charges against Becciu made him the first cardinal ever to be tried for financial crimes. It also pushed Pope Francis to strip him of his rights, including the right to vote in a future conclave to choose Francis’ successor.

After the Pope removed him from his position in 2020, he held a press conference to defend his innocence.

Cardinal Becciu said: “Until 6:02 pm on Thursday, I felt like a friend of the Pope, a loyal executor of his will.” “Then the Pope said he no longer trusted me.”

The whole affair has become a test of Pope Francis’s goal of liquidating the Vatican’s finances, which had long been plagued by scandals, bedeviling the papacy of Francis’ predecessor, Benedict XVI.

The outcome of this case could have major implications for Francis’ legacy as a reformer.

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