VATICAN CITY (RNS) – The Vatican indicted ten former officials and business partners on Saturday (July 3), including a cardinal, in connection to a controversial investment in property in London that depleted the church’s finances and undermined its credibility.
Cardinal Angelo Becciu, 73, who Pope Francis stripped of his cardinal rights and Vatican titles in September of last year, is being charged with bribery, abuse of office and embezzlement in collusion with foreign companies and financiers who are themselves accused of mishandling Vatican charitable funds.
The charges come two months after Francis issued a decree allowing cardinals to be tried by the Vatican’s tribunal. A preliminary hearing is set for July 27. The Vatican Secretariat of State will be a plaintiff in the proceedings.
“I am a victim of machinations orchestrated at my expense,” Becciu said through his legal team on Saturday, adding that he welcomed the trial to “prove to the world my absolute innocence.”
The charges revolve around the attempt by the Vatican’s powerful Secretariat of State to purchase luxury real estate in downtown London in 2014, using a fund, intended for the pope’s charitable works, known as Peter’s Pence.
Raffaele Mincione, a businessman who owned the London property, is accused of fraud, money laundering and embezzlement in the deal, while Gianluigi Torzi, who was enlisted to help the Vatican gain full ownership of the apartment complex in 2019, is charged with extortion, embezzlement and money laundering. Last April the Vatican asked that Torzi be extradited from the United Kingdom to face charges of defrauding the church of $22 million.
Vatican prosecutors collaborated with investigators from Italy, the United Kingdom, Jersey, Luxembourg, the United Arab Emirates, Slovenia and Switzerland, bringing to light “a vast network of relationships with financial market operators who generated substantial losses for Vatican finances, having also drawn on resources destined for the personal works of charity of the Holy Father,” the Vatican said on Saturday.
Numerous individuals connected to Becciu have been indicted with him, including Cecilia Marogna, known in the Italian press as “the cardinal’s lady,” who, according to local reports, was allegedly paid more than 500,000 euros to act as a security consultant for the Vatican. Marogna is being charged with embezzlement of Vatican funds.
Monsignor Mauro Carlino, Becciu’s personal secretary when the cardinal was Substitute, or chief of staff, to the powerful Secretariat of State, is also charged with extortion and abuse of office. Carlino was among the five Vatican employees who saw their offices raided by Vatican police in October 2019.
Another Vatican’s Secretariat of State official connected to Becciu, Fabrizio Tirabassi, is charged for corruption, extortion, embezzlement, fraud and abuse of office. A July 1st report by the Italian newspaper Il Corriere della Sera found that Tirabassi received payments and commissions from the Swiss Bank UBS that could constitute a significant conflict of interest.
Also accused are René Brülhart, the former president of the Vatican’s Financial Information Authority, or AIF, and its former director Tommaso di Ruzza. Both are charged for abuse of office, with di Ruzza also facing charges for breach of official secrecy.
In a statement released by his legal team, Brülhart said, “I have always carried out my functions and duties with correctness, loyalty and in the exclusive interest of the Holy See and its organs.”
Di Ruzza told RNS in an email, “I am serene and confident that the truth of the facts and my innocence will emerge and will be clarified soon by the Vatican judicial authorities.”
Enrico Crasso, who managed a Vatican investment fund for 27 years, is charged with embezzlement, corruption, extortion, money laundering, fraud, abuse of office and falsifying public documents. Three companies owned by Crasso, directly and indirectly, are mentioned in the Vatican statement.
Notably absent from indictments is Alberto Perlasca, whose office and home were raided by Vatican police officials in February 2020 and was called in for questioning about his role in the London deal.
A June 9 report by the European anti-money laundering entity Moneyval stated that the Vatican faced financial risks from “insiders,” saying the church was susceptible to money laundering schemes.
Francis has issued a series of decrees aimed at promoting the Vatican’s financial transparency and preventing corruption in recent years, and in 2019 appointed Giuseppe Pignatone, formerly a prosecutor in Rome and known for his anti-mafia efforts to head the Vatican tribunal. The indictments, Saturday’s statement said, are “directly linked” to these reforms.