Vatican Court Sentences Cardinal to 5.5 Years in Fraud Trial

This photo taken and handout on December 16, 2023 by The Vatican Media shows President Giuseppe Pignatone (center), Professor Venerando Marano (left), Director of the Department of Law at the University of Rome "Tor Vergata" and Professor Carlo Bonzano (right), Professor of Criminal Procedural Law at the University of Rome "Tor Vergata," during the verdict of the trial for alleged financial wrongdoing of Senior cardinal Angelo Becciu and nine others in The Vatican. AFP PHOTO / VATICAN MEDIA
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A Vatican court has handed down a historic sentence, sentencing former Italian cardinal Angelo Becciu to five years and six months in jail for financial crimes. Becciu, once a trusted adviser to Pope Francis and a potential candidate for the papacy, is the highest-ranking clergyman in the Catholic Church to face a Vatican criminal court.

While Becciu’s lawyer, Fabio Viglione, has stated that they will appeal the sentence and maintain Becciu’s innocence, the Vatican court found him guilty of embezzlement, abuse of office, and witness tampering. This trial focused on a disastrous investment made by the Vatican in a luxury building in London, with Becciu being one of ten defendants.

Following the verdict, the court president, Giuseppe Pignatone, read out sentences ranging from fines to more than seven years in jail. The court also ordered the confiscation of 166 million euros from those convicted and demanded that they compensate the civil parties with over 200 million euros.

This trial has shed light on the murky finances of the Holy See, the governing body of the Catholic Church, which Pope Francis has been actively working to clean up since assuming his role in 2013. Prior to this trial, cardinals and bishops were judged by a court presided over by cardinals themselves. However, just weeks before the trial began, Pope Francis granted the Vatican’s civilian courts the power to try high-ranking clergy members.

The central focus of the trial was the Vatican’s purchase of a building in London’s upscale Chelsea neighborhood. The investment resulted in significant losses, which the Vatican claims were taken from resources intended for charitable causes. Becciu was found guilty of embezzlement for his decision to invest $200 million in a fund managed by financier Raffaele Mincione, a move deemed highly risky by the judges.

Prosecutors revealed that a portion of this money was used to purchase part of the Sloane Avenue property, resulting in the Vatican losing between 140 million and 190 million euros. Alessandro Diddi, the prosecutor, had requested a sentence of seven years and three months for Becciu, who consistently maintained his innocence, stating that he never received any personal financial gain.

Alongside Becciu, other individuals involved in the London deal were also convicted. Raffaele Mincione received a jail sentence of five and a half years, while Gianluigi Torzi, another broker involved in the transaction, was sentenced to six years in jail.

The trial, which spanned over two and a half years, included more than 80 hearings held in a dedicated room within the Vatican Museums. Throughout the proceedings, a portrait of Pope Francis looked on from the wall, symbolizing the efforts made by the Catholic Church to address and rectify these financial issues.

Despite the trial’s conclusion, it was not without its challenges. Defense lawyers raised concerns about limited access to crucial evidence, which complicated the procedural aspects of the case.

Angelo Becciu, a former Vatican diplomat, held the position of number two in the Secretariat of State, the Vatican department that works closely with the pope, from 2011 to 2018. He was subsequently appointed to lead the department responsible for the canonization of saints. However, Becciu abruptly resigned in September 2020 after being informed of an investigation against him.

Initially, the investigation focused on a donation of 125,000 euros from Vatican funds that Becciu made to a charity run by his brother in Sardinia. Becciu was convicted of conflict of interest in relation to this donation. Subsequently, he became entangled in the investigations surrounding the London property purchase.

Becciu was also found guilty of a 570,000-euro payment made to Cecilia Marogna, a Sardinian woman. Becciu claimed that this payment was intended to facilitate the release of a Colombian nun who had been kidnapped in Mali.

In conclusion, the sentencing of Angelo Becciu to jail for financial crimes marks a significant moment in the history of the Catholic Church. This trial has not only exposed the murky financial practices within the Holy See but also highlights Pope Francis’ commitment to addressing and rectifying these issues. As the Vatican continues its efforts to promote transparency and accountability, this trial serves as a reminder that no individual, regardless of their position, is above the law.

Source: The Manila Times

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