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Senior cardinal convicted in Vatican corruption trial

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Senior cardinal convicted in Vatican corruption trial © Reuters. Cardinal Angelo Becciu arrives at a consistory ceremony to elevate Roman Catholic prelates to the rank of cardinal, at Saint Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican, August 27, 2022. REUTERS/Remo Casilli/File Photo

By Philip Pullella

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) -Cardinal Angelo Becciu, the most senior Catholic Church official ever to stand trial before a Vatican criminal court, was convicted on Saturday of embezzlement and fraud and sentenced to five-and-a-half years in jail.

The Italian prelate’s lawyer, Fabio Viglione, told reporters in the courtroom he would appeal, saying his client was innocent. Becciu, who lives in the Vatican, was expected to remain free for the time being.

In all, 10 defendants were accused of crimes including fraud, abuse of office and money laundering. All denied wrongdoing.

It took Court President Giuseppe Pignatone 25 minutes to read all the verdicts and sentences.

Becciu, like most of the other defendants, was convicted on some counts and acquitted of others. Only one, Becciu’s former secretary, Father Mauro Carlino, was acquitted of all charges.

The trial, which exposed infighting and intrigue in the highest echelons of the Vatican, lasted for 86 sessions over two-and-a-half years.

It revolved mostly around the messy purchase of a building in London by the Secretariat of State, the Vatican’s key administrative and diplomatic department.

Becciu, then an archbishop, held the number two position there in 2013 when it began investing in a fund managed by Italian financier Raffaele Mincione, securing about 45% of the building at 60 Sloane Avenue, in an upmarket district of the city.

Mincione was found guilty of embezzlement and money laundering and given the same sentence as Becciu.

IRRESPONSIBLE INVESTMENT

The court said Becciu had been irresponsible and “highly speculative” to invest more than $200 million with Mincione’s fund between 2013-2014, noting this was about a third of the holdings of the Secretariat of State at the time.

In 2018, with Becciu in another Vatican job, the Secretariat of State felt it was being deceived by Mincione and turned to another financier, Gianluigi Torzi, for help in squeezing Mincione out and buying the rest of the building.

Torzi also fleeced the Vatican, according to prosecutors. He was found guilty of fraud and extortion and sentenced to six years.

The Vatican sold the building last year, taking an estimated loss of about 140 million euros ($150 million).

Becciu, who was fired by Pope Francis from his next job in 2020 for alleged nepotism, but remains a cardinal, was also found guilty of embezzlement for funnelling money and contracts to companies or charities controlled by his brothers on their native island of Sardinia.

Another accusation involved his hiring of Cecilia Marogna, a self-styled security analyst, also from Sardinia, as part of a secret project to help win freedom for a nun who had been kidnapped in Mali.

Marogna, 46, received 575,000 euros from the Secretariat of State in 2018-2019. The money was sent to a company she had set up in Slovenia and she received some in cash, prosecutors told the court.

Italian police said Marogna had spent much of the money on luxury clothing and health spas. Both she and Becciu were found guilty of aggravated fraud related to the transfer of money and Marogna was ordered to return the money to the Vatican.

Enrico Crasso, a banker who managed funds for the Secretariat of State, was convicted of money laundering and sentenced to seven years. Fabrizio Tirabassi, who worked in the Secretariat, was sentenced to seven-and-a-half years.

The court ordered Becciu, Mincione, Tirabassi and Crasso to repay a total of more than 100 million euros to the Vatican.

Nicola Squillace, a lawyer who worked with both Crasso and Tirabassi, was given a suspended sentence of a year and 10 months.

Rene Bruelhart, a Swiss lawyer and former president of the Vatican’s Financial Intelligence Unit, and its director, Italian Tommaso Di Ruzza, were convicted of administrative omission and ordered to pay small fines.

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