Lawyers for the Holy See’s sovereign wealth manager recommended Thursday that the court drop some charges against Cardinal Angelo Becciu in the landmark Vatican financial trial.
The legal team representing APSA, the Vatican body responsible for managing the Holy See’s property portfolio and investment income, and which serves as the Roman curia’s paymaster, told the court Friday to drop charges against Becciu in relation to an alleged secret mission to secure the release of a kidnapped religious sister.
Lawyers for the cardinal welcomed the development, and said that APSA’s request was a recognition that there is no case to answer on the matter, which involved the payment of hundreds of thousands of euros to Cecelia Marogna, a self-styled geopolitical strategist who has said she worked as a private spy for the cardinal.
“We welcome the choice of the Administration of the Patrimony of the Apostolic See, a civil party in the trial, to request the acquittal of Cardinal Becciu on the charge of embezzlement linked to the kidnapping of a nun in Mali,” the cardinal’s legal team said in a statement Friday.
“The request for acquittal took note of the investigation which demonstrated the Cardinal's absolute good faith and correctness in the operation.”
But the request for Becciu’s acquittal on the embezzlement charge wasn’t the whole story.
In the courtroom Thursday, lawyers from APSA, led by a former Italian minister for justice, Giovanni Flick, pressed for the cardinal’s conviction on a host of other charges.
Flick also asked the judges Sept. 29 to refuse to suspend any prison sentences they imposed in the event of convictions unless defendants, including Becciu, made full financial restitution for their alleged crimes.
Vatican City prosecutors have requested a seven year prison sentence for the cardinal, who is charged with a range of financial crimes, including embezzlement, fraud, conspiracy, perverting the course of justice, and abuse of office.
The charges are spread across several distinct and at times overlapping financial scandals, including the London property deal, funneling Church funds to members of his family, and his dealings with Marogna.
Flick argues in court last week that “All the facts [presented in evidence] were aimed at creating a significant economic loss for the Holy See, with diversion or illicit use of the money, with embezzlement, with losses in the availability of money, with fraudulent conduct aimed at creating unfair profits, and also with extortion and hypotheses of corruption and abuse of office.”
“Cardinal Becciu has demonstrated that he has full knowledge of the highly speculative characteristics of the investments,” Flick said.
While touting the APSA lawyer’s recommendation to dismiss the charges related to the Marogna affair, Becciu’s lawyers dismissed Flick’s call for convictions and jail time on the other charges against the cardinal, insisting that “the other issues did not in any way affect the proof of the cardinal's innocence, which emerged clearly during the hearing.”
APSA’s legal team were in court to make their final arguments Thursday, alongside representatives for the Secretariat of State, one day after lawyers for the IOR made similar calls for convictions and financial compensation.
All three Vatican institutions are civil parties to the case, pressing lawsuits against the ten defendants alongside the Vatican City criminal prosecutions.
The institutions made their closing arguments last week after criminal prosecutors wrapped up their case in July. The remaining hearings, set to continue until December, are allocated for the defense lawyers representing the ten accused.
Marogna and Becciu are charged with conspiring to embezzle Vatican funds, which were sent to her Slovenian company on Becciu’s orders.
Becciu has insisted that the payments to Marogna were part of a super-secret, papally approved operation to negotiate the release of a religious sister kidnapped in Mali in 2017. However, financial records show that the money sent to Marogna by Becciu was spent on designer label goods, luxury travel, and five-star resorts.
Becciu also faces questions, and the prospect of further criminal charges, over his attempts to induce Pope Francis to alibi his actions with Marogna. In an exchange of letters with Francis, entered into evidence in the trial, Becciu repeatedly demanded that Francis sign statements clearing the cardinal of wrongdoing, which the pope refused to do.
Later, Becciu had his niece secretly record a telephone call with the pope in which he again attempted to get the pope to take responsibility for his actions, which Francis refused to do.
Despite Becciu’s repeated insistence that there was nothing irregular about his authorization of secret payments to Marogna (both during and after his term as sostituto at the Secretariat of State), the transfers, totalling 575,000 euros, were flagged by Interpol, alerting Vatican City police.
Other charges against the cardinal include allegations that he misappropriated hundreds of thousands of euros in Church funds and handed them over to members of his family.
A key transaction is 250,000 euros sent by Becciu to bank accounts controlled by his brother, Antonio Becciu, who runs the Spes Cooperative, a Catholic charity in Sardinia. The cardinal has said during the trial that he authorized an initial 100,000 euro loan, later converted to a 50,000 euro donation from the Italian bishops’ conference, because he was “excited” by his brother’s charitable work which, he said, made him “blush, as a priest.”
Asked about two more payments, one of which was made from a Secretariat of State account, which went into his brother’s personal bank account and totaled 130,000 euros, Becciu has insisted that it is ordinary practice for Vatican funds to be deposited with individuals, including family members, for charitable purposes.
Both Vatican and Italian prosecutors question how charitable the Becciu brothers’ purposes were, however.
When the paperwork for the supposed deliveries was produced, no one could recognize the signatures on the documents, prosecutors said, and Italian financial police concluded that invoices were created just weeks before police searches, and were fabricated to cover supposed deliveries dating back to 2018, for which no other records exist.
Both Cardinal Becciu’s brother Antonio and the local director of Caritas, Fr. Mario Curzu, are under investigation by Italian authorities in Sardinia as part of their enquiry into the matter. Both have refused to appear during the Vatican trial, despite repeated summons.
While the charges filed by prosecutors in the case stretch across several overlapping financial scandals, the primary focus of the evidence and the charges — including against Cardinal Becciu — is the Secretariat of State’s now-infamous purchase of a London building at 60 Sloane Avenue.
The actual Vatican acquisition of the property came amid a decision to withdraw early from an investment by the Secretariat of State worth hundreds of millions of euros, arranged by Becciu, in a fund managed by financier London-based Raffaele Mincione.
While Becciu is accused of arranging that investment outside of Vatican financial laws, the decision to terminate the investment early was made by his successor, Archbishop Edgar Peña Parra, in 2018, after Becciu was moved out of the Secretariat of State.
However, according to Vatican prosecutors, as their investigation into the deal got underway, Becciu acted to shut it down — most notably by fronting an offer in 2020 from a consortium of shadowy businessmen to buy the London building back, despite his claims to have nothing to do with the entire affair.
Referring to Becciu’s offer to have the building bought back, Pope Francis wrote to Becciu in 2021 saying “I recall that this proposal immediately struck me as strange in terms of content, the forms and times chosen.”
“I must also add,” Francis wrote, “that my original perplexity was further strengthened when I understood that the initiative in question was, among other things, aimed at interfering, with impeding effects, with the investigations of the Office of the Promoter of Justice.”