Witness thrown out of courtroom as Cardinal Becciu cross-examination continues

A hearing in the Vatican finance trial on May 20, 2022 A hearing in the Vatican finance trial on May 20, 2022. | Vatican Media.

Cardinal Angelo Becciu refused to answer any questions not related to his charges during a continuation of his cross-examination in the Vatican finance trial on Thursday.

The 73-year-old Italian cardinal said on May 19 that he would not respond to questions about the Italian bishops’ conference because it is unconnected to his charges of embezzlement, abuse of office, and witness tampering.

Except for witness tampering, the accusations against Becciu date back to before he was elevated to the College of Cardinals, when he was the Sostituto, or second-ranking official, in the Secretariat of State.

During Thursday’s hearing, Becciu complained of being humiliated by certain lines of questioning the day prior, accusing the prosecuting attorney of asking questions that “injured my priestly dignity.”

Judges ruled on May 19 that accusations connected to the Italian bishops’ conference were not part of the trial, but the prosecuting attorney was nevertheless allowed to ask questions about it.

During the cross-examination, the cardinal again pointed to his faith in what he was told about investments by former Secretariat of State officials Monsignor Alberto Perlasca and Fabrizio Tirabassi.

A judge asked Becciu in what way then he exercised his powers as Sostituto, to which he responded: “If I had realized there was something wrong, or had insights to go another way, or better to invest elsewhere, I could have told them differently, I had not had opportunities and they never offered me opportunities to go against their proposals.”

While Becciu was speaking about his lack of suspicion of Perlasca at the time of the investment in the London building at the heart of the trial, the former head of his administrative office entered the courtroom from a side door.

Prosecutor Alessandro Diddi immediately pointed out that Perlasca’s presence could be a problem, given that he is a witness in the trial. Perlasca is also seeking damages as a victim in the trial over Becciu’s witness tampering charge.

Perlasca was asked to leave the room by court president Giuseppe Pignatone.

Thursday’s hearing also included the filing of a written defense on the part of another defendant, Cecilia Marogna, a self-described “security consultant” who has been accused of misappropriating 575,000 euros (around $607,000) of Vatican funds she spent on luxury goods.

In the 23-page statement, which judges told Marogna’s defense lawyers could not be read in court, the 40-year-old Sardinian woman provided her own account of her dealings with the Vatican, including claims that she was a go-between for a request for relics of St. Nicholas of Bari from emissaries of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Marogna also recounted in detail her dealings with Italian intelligence agents and secret service chiefs in Colombia, Burkina Faso, and Mali.

Explaining her role in the operations to free Sister Gloria Cecilia Narváez Argoti, a missionary abducted in Mali, Marogna said Becciu’s claim that Pope Francis green-lighted spending a million euros to free the nun “does not correspond to the truth.”

She said that in addition to the 575,000 euros paid to her, the Secretariat of State also paid the Inkerman Group, a British intelligence firm, approximately 589,000 euros, for a total of 1.16 million euros (around $1.2 million) — not for Sister Gloria’s ransom, but for “management of the case.”

There is no independent corroboration of Marogna’s claims since, according to the defendant herself, “no contract was signed between the companies and the Secretariat of State.”

Marogna said that “there was never a requirement for accountability and an obligation to manage the funds received by the companies on the part of the sender who, like other institutional structures, simply hired corporate entities to carry out certain operational activities of its interest.”

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According to Marogna, these activities “should have remained discreet and shielded even within the Secretariat of State’s own administrative management, according to specific orders given by Pope Francis.”

Becciu confirmed in his cross-examination on Thursday that Marogna was brought in to work with the Secretariat of State after she introduced herself to him via email.

The three days of back-to-back hearings concluded on May 20 with the first part of the interrogation of Fabrizio Tirabassi.

Tirabassi was a senior lay official working in the Secretariat of State’s general affairs section from 1987 until his suspension in 2019. From the 1990s on, Tirabassi oversaw the Secretariat’s financial affairs, including investments and movements of the Vatican’s accounts in Swiss banks.

During a cross-examination on Friday, Tirabassi explained the circumstances around the Secretariat of State’s consideration of a proposal in 2012 and 2013 to invest in oil in Angola, and why the idea was eventually abandoned — including that the investment would have been made at the same time that Pope Francis was writing his 2015 environmental encyclical Laudato si’.

The former official underlined that the Secretariat of State had, until a few years ago, its own budget completely separate from the rest of the Roman Curia and not under the supervision of the Secretariat for the Economy.

Tirabassi also provided an explanation for how the Secretariat came to work with Italian businessman Raffaele Mincione, Tirabassi’s co-defendant, who was a top client of the Swiss bank Credit Suisse, also involved in the Angola oil proposal.

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The ex-Secretariat official said that the Vatican did due diligence on Mincione before purchasing from him the building at 60 Sloane Avenue in London, indicating that the Secretariat took about a year to vet the investment manager.

Tirabassi’s defense lawyers issued a brief statement after the hearing in which they praised the “excellent questioning in which our client lucidly explained the reality of the facts: there is no crime behind the Sloane Square affair and there is no rot in the Secretariat of State.”

“The only mystery in this story is why someone wanted to hold a trial in an affair that the Holy See leadership wanted to close with an agreement,” attorneys Massimo Bassi and Cataldo Intrieri said.

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