Cardinal Becciu to stand trial at Vatican for embezzlement and abuse of office

CNA 5d164ae8931a2 158096 2 1 Giovanni Angelo Becciu, former prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, pictured June 27, 2019./ Daniel Ibáñez/CNA.

The Vatican announced Saturday that Cardinal Angelo Becciu will be tried on charges of embezzlement and abuse of office.

The Vatican court also announced it will hold a criminal trial against nine people and four corporations in connection with the Secretariat of State’s purchase of a London investment property.

The trial's first hearing will take place July 27.

Among those to be tried are several employees of the Secretariat of State: Fabrizio Tirabassi, who oversaw investments, will be tried on charges of corruption, extortion, embezzlement, fraud, and abuse of office.

Mons. Mauro Carlino, who worked with Tirabassi, has been charged with extortion and abuse of office.

At the center of the trial is the Secretariat of State’s purchase of a building at 60 Sloane Avenue in London. It was bought in stages between 2014 and 2018 from Italian businessman Raffaele Mincione, who at the time was managing hundreds of millions of euros of secretariat funds.

Mincione will also stand trial on charges of embezzlement, fraud, abuse of office, misappropriation, and self-money laundering.

Businessman Gianluigi Torzi, who was brought in to broker the final negotiations of the Vatican’s purchase of the London property in 2018, has been charged with extortion, embezzlement, fraud, misappropriation, money laundering, and self-money laundering.

Enrico Crasso, who managed investments for the Vatican for over 25 years, was investigated on suspicions he was working together with Mincione and Tirabassi to defraud the Secretariat of State.

Crasso, who is the manager of the Centurion Global Fund in which the Holy See is the principal investor, faces the most charges: corruption, embezzlement, extortion, money laundering, self-money laundering, fraud, abuse of office, falsifying a public document, and falsifying a private document.

The Vatican has also charged three corporations owned by Crasso with fraud.

Gianluigi Torzi, a businessman who worked with Mincione, will face trial on charges of extortion, embezzlement, fraud, misappropriation, money laundering, and self-money laundering.

His associate, the lawyer Nicola Squillace, faces the same charges minus extortion.

Torzi was arrested by Vatican officials last year, and held for a little over a week, as part of the financial investigation. He was also arrested in London on May 11 at the request of a judge in Rome. His bail was set at $1.6 million.

The Italian businessman acted as a commission-earning middleman for the Secretariat of State as it finalized its purchase of the London property, on which it spent approximately $300 million.

Torzi brokered the sale, reportedly earning 10 million euros for his role in the final stage of the deal.

Mons. Alberto Perlasca, Becciu's former chief deputy at the Secretariat of State, was also investigated as part of the London property scandal, but is not among the defendants in this summer's trial.

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According to the Vatican communication, in the course of investigations, which began in July 2019, “elements also emerged against Card. Giovanni Angelo Becciu, against whom we proceed, as required by law, for the offenses of embezzlement and abuse of office also in cooperation, as well as subornation.”

In a statement made through his lawyers July 3, Becciu said he is innocent of the charges, and that he was the victim of enemy plots and media derision.

The trial will be “the moment for clarification,” he said, adding that he believes the court will uncover “the absolute falsity of the accusations against me and the dark plots that evidently supported and fed them.”

A date is not given for the trial against Becciu.

Becciu resigned as prefect of the congregation and from the rights extended to members of the College of Cardinals on Sept. 24, 2020.

The cardinal worked previously as the number two-ranking official in the Vatican’s Secretariat of State, the powerful curial department at the center of the investigation of financial malfeasance.

The financial trial will also include Cecilia Marogna, a self-described security consultant, who has been charged with embezzlement after a Vatican investigation into reports that she received hundreds of thousands of euros from the Vatican’s Secretariat of State in connection with Becciu, and that she had spent the money on luxury goods and vacations.

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Marogna acknowledged receiving the money but insisted that the funds went to her Vatican security consultancy work and salary.

The 39-year-old woman from Sardinia was arrested in Milan last year on an international warrant issued by the Vatican through Interpol. She was released from jail after 17 days and an extradition request by the Vatican was dropped in January.

Marogna’s Slovenian-based company, Logsic Humanitarne Dejavnosti, D.O.O., is also being brought to trial on the charge of embezzlement.

The last two defendants are René Brülhart and Tommaso Di Ruzza, who previously led the Vatican's internal financial watchdog, ASIF.

Di Ruzza was replaced last year after completing his five-year term of office, according to the Vatican.

Brülhart left ASIF in November 2019. A Vatican statement at the time said that Brülhart was leaving at the end of his five-year term, but the Swiss lawyer told Reuters that he had resigned from the post.

Di Ruzza was one of five employees and officials suspended and blocked from entering the Vatican after Vatican gendarmes raided the Secretariat of State and ASIF offices on Oct. 1, 2019.

Later that month, the ASIF’s board of directors issued a statement expressing “full faith and trust in the professional competence and honorability” of Di Ruzza, but no announcement was ever made by Vatican authorities regarding the results of any investigation into Di Ruzza or his return to work.

Di Ruzza is charged with embezzlement, abuse of office, and violation of confidentiality.

Brülhart is charged with abuse of office