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Vatican Finance Trial: Cardinal found guilty of embezzlement and sentenced to five and a half years in prison

Vatican Finance Trial: Cardinal found guilty of embezzlement and sentenced to five and a half years in prison

VATICAN CITY (AP) — A Vatican court on Saturday convicted a cardinal of embezzlement and sentenced him to 5 1/2 years in prison in one of several rulings handed down in a complex financial trial that has exposed the city-state’s dirty laundry and tested its judicial system.

Cardinal Angelo Becciu, the first cardinal to be tried by the Vatican’s criminal court, was acquitted of several other charges and nine other defendants received a combination of guilty and acquittals among nearly 50 charges brought against them during a two-and-a-half-year trial.

Becchio’s lawyer, Fabrizio Viglione, said he respected the ruling but would appeal it.

Prosecutor Alessandro Didi said the result “shows that we were right.”

This is breaking news: previous story below

A once powerful cardinal and nine other people learned their fate Saturday when a Vatican court handed down rulings in a complex financial trial She aired the small city-state’s dirty laundry It tested its judicial system.

At the start of the hearing, Judge Giuseppe Pignatoni praised prosecutors and defense lawyers alike for their professionalism in what he acknowledged was a trial that was “certainly unusual” for the Vatican in its complexity. He stressed that the court tried “within the limits of the applicable legal framework” to ensure ample space for both parties to present their case, especially the defense.

The three-judge panel then entered into closed deliberations awaiting the reading of the rulings in the late afternoon in the converted courtroom of the Vatican Museums, where the two sides sparred for two-and-a-half years over the details of the money-losing investment in Luxury real estate in London.

Cardinal Angelo Becciu, the first cardinal ever to be tried in a Vatican criminal court, is charged with embezzlement charges in two parts of the London deal and faces up to seven years in prison if convicted. He has denied any wrongdoing.

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Unlike most of the defendants, Becciu attended almost all 86 hearings, during which 69 witnesses were heard, saying that Pope Francis clearly wants to face the court’s judgment after Francis himself. She forced him to resign He removed his privileges as a cardinal before he could be charged.

The trial raised questions about the rule of law in the city’s jurisdiction and Francis’s politics. Power as an absolute monarchConsidering that he has supreme legislative, executive and judicial powers and exercises them in the ways the defense says Endangers a fair trial.

Defense lawyers praised Pignatton’s fairness and said they were able to present their arguments at length. But they lamented the outdated procedural rules imposed by the Vatican on prosecutors Enormous leeway to withhold evidence Otherwise they continue their investigations almost unhindered.

In addition to Becchio, prosecutors charged nine others with a range of alleged financial crimes stemming from the State Secretariat’s €350 million investment in developing a former Harrods warehouse into luxury apartments. The prosecution alleges that Vatican monks and brokers He usurped the Holy See Tens of millions of euros in fees and commissions and then blackmailed the Holy See for 15 million euros into relinquishing control of the building.

FILE – Cardinal Angelo Becciu speaks to reporters during a news conference in Rome on September 25, 2020. Lawyers for the once-powerful cardinal accused Vatican prosecutors of being “prisoners of their own completely broken theory” in closing arguments of the two-year trial. Becciu is on trial with nine other people in a case focusing on the Vatican’s 350 million euro investment in a London property. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia, File)

Prosecutors are seeking convictions on nearly 50 different counts of fraud, embezzlement, money laundering, corruption, abuse of office and extortion. They are seeking – Imprisonment from three to 13 years And compensation of more than 400 million euros to try to recover an estimated 200 million euros that they say the Holy See lost in bad deals.

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The trial was initially seen as a sign of Francis’ financial reforms and his willingness to crack down on alleged financial crimes at the Vatican. But he had something of Reputation boom For the Holy See, with revelations of vendettas, espionage and even ransom payments to Islamic militants.

The State Department, for example, is seeking damages to fund a marketing campaign to try to repair reputational damage it says it has suffered. The Vatican’s communications department even said the trial itself was a “stress test” for the legal system.

FILE - New Cardinal Giovanni Angelo Becciu changes his Beretta into a skull hat as he receives friends after Consistory at the Vatican on June 28, 2018. Lawyers for the once-powerful cardinal have accused Vatican prosecutors of "Prisoners for their completely shattered theory" In the closing arguments of a two-year trial.  Becciu is on trial with nine other people in a case focusing on the Vatican's 350 million euro investment in a London property.  (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino, File)

FILE – New Cardinal Giovanni Angelo Becciu changes his Beretta into a skull hat as he receives friends after Consistory at the Vatican on June 28, 2018. Lawyers for the once-powerful cardinal accused Vatican prosecutors of being “prisoners of their own completely broken theory.” “In closing arguments of a two-year trial. Becciu is on trial along with nine other people in a case centering on the Vatican’s 350 million euro investment in a London property. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino, File)

Much of the London case depended on… Passage of property From one mediator in London to another in late 2018. Prosecutors allege that the second mediator, Gianluigi Torzi, deceived the Vatican by maneuvering to secure full control of the building which he only relinquished when the Vatican paid him €15 million.

For Vatican prosecutors, this amounted to blackmail. For defense – and The British judge who rejected the Vatican’s requests to seize Torzi’s assets – It was a negotiated exit from a legally binding contract.

The two former directors of the Vatican’s financial oversight, Rene Brulhart and Tommaso De Rosa, were accused of abusing their positions for not blocking the payment to Torzi and not informing Vatican prosecutors of all of it.

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But in their testimony that brought Francis to the heart of the trial, they argued so Francis himself asked them To assist the Secretariat of State in wresting control of the property from Torzi once the Vatican realized that it did not actually own the building.

They cited written testimony from the Vatican’s chief of staff, Monsignor Edgar Peña Parra, who said Vatican lawyers advised against prosecuting Torzi because their case was too weak. The Vatican chose to negotiate reparations with Torzi because this option was considered the best in terms of cost, risk and outcome.

“It also seems to be completely in line with the will of the president,” he added, referring to Francis, who said he wanted it. “Turn the page and start over.”

The original investigation in London gave rise to two other phenomena involving the star defendant, Becciu, who had once been one of Francis’s senior advisors and himself considered a papal rival.

Prosecutors accused Becciu of embezzlement for sending 125,000 euros in Vatican funds to a charity in Sardinia run by his brother. Becchio argued that the local bishop requested money to build a bakery to employ at-risk youth and that the money remained in the diocese’s coffers.

Becciu was also accused of paying a Sardinian woman, Cecilia Marogna, for her intelligence services. Prosecutors traced about 575,000 euros in wire transfers from the Vatican to a Slovenian front company owned by Marogna, and said she used the money to buy luxury goods and finance vacations.

Becciu said he believed the money would go to a British security company to negotiate the release of Gloria Narvaez, a Colombian nun. Hostage by Islamic militants In Mali in 2017.

He said Francis authorized up to one million euros to free the nunIt is a stunning admission that the Vatican was willing to pay a ransom to Al-Qaeda-linked militants.

Marogna, who is also on trial, denied any wrongdoing.