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Tuesday, 21 September 2021

Vatican indicts 10 people in London real estate deal

The tribunal president, Judge Giuseppe Pignatone, set July 27 as the trial date, according to a Vatican statement

AP , Saturday 3 Jul 2021
Vatican
Cardinal Angelo Becciu looks down as he meets the media during a press conference in Rome. AP
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The Vatican's criminal tribunal on Saturday indicted 10 people, including a cardinal, on charges including embezzlement, abuse of office, extortion and fraud in connection with the Secretariat of State's 350 million-euro investment in a London real estate venture.

The tribunal president, Judge Giuseppe Pignatone, set July 27 as the trial date, according to a Vatican statement.

Five former Vatican officials, including Cardinal Angelo Becciu and two officials from the Secretariat of State, were indicted, as well as Italian businessmen who handled the London investment. Also indicted on alleged embezzlement charges was an Italian intelligence expert.

Vatican prosecutors accuse the main suspects of bilking millions of euros from the Holy See in fees and other losses related to other financial dealings. The suspects have denied wrongdoing.

One of the main suspects in the case, Gianlugi Torzi, is accused of having extorted the Vatican out of 15 million euros to turn over ownership of the London building in late 2018. Torzi had been retained by the Vatican to help it acquire full ownership of the building from another indicted money manager who had handled the initial investment.

Vatican prosecutors allege Torzi inserted a last-minute clause into the contract giving him full voting rights in the deal.

The Vatican hierarchy, however, signed off on the contract, with both Pope Francis' No. 2, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, and his deputy approving it. Neither was indicted.

Vatican prosecutors have produced evidence suggesting they were hoodwinked by an Italian lawyer _ who was also indicted Saturday _ into agreeing to the deal.

Torzi has denied the charges and said the accusations were the fruit of a misunderstanding. He is currently in London pending an Italian extradition request.

Also indicted was another once-powerful Holy See official, Cardinal Angelo Becciu, who helped engineer the initial London investment when he was the chief of staff in the Secretariat of State.

Francis fired him as the Vatican's saint-making chief last year, apparently in connection with a separate issue: his 100,000-euro donation of Secretariat of State funds to a diocesan charity run by Becciu's brother.

The Vatican statement said ``elements had emerged'' against Becciu in connection with the London investigation. His name was listed separately from the others in the indictment because a separate procedure is required to prosecute a cardinal.

Becciu has denied wrongdoing in the London investment; he has admitted he made the donation but insisted the money was for the charity, not his brother.

One of Becciu's protege's, Cecilia Marogna, was indicted on embezzlement charges. Becciu had hired Marogna as an external consultant after she reached out to him in 2015 with concerns about security at Vatican embassies in global hotspots. Becciu authorized hundreds of thousands of euros of Holy See funds to her to free Catholic hostages, according to WhatsApp messages reprinted by Italian media.

Her Slovenian-based holding company, which received the funds, was among the four companies also ordered to stand trial.

Marogna has said the money wired to her was compensation for legitimate security and intelligence work and reimbursements for her expenses.

Also indicted were the former top two officials in the Vatican's financial watchdog agency, for alleged abuse of office. The watchdog agency had actually launched an international investigation into the London deal months before Vatican prosecutors had.

The main suspects didn't immediately respond to a request for comment Saturday.

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