Cardinal Angelo Becciu returned to court in Vatican City Friday, as lawyers for the 10 defendants in the Vatican’s financial scandal trial made final pleas to see the case against them dismissed.
Cardinal Becciu, the former sostituo at the Secretariat of State and the highest-profile defendant, attended the pretrial hearing in person Friday, after having boycotted a previous session, and telling the judges that the proceeding had sunk beneath his “dignity.”
Over the last week, Italian authorities served multiple warrants issued on the request of Vatican prosecutors in relation to allegations that the cardinal — who was sacked from his curial positions by Pope Francis in September 2020 — used his position to funnel hundreds of thousands of euros in Church funds to members of his family.
Raids were conducted on several Church offices, including in Becciu’s home Diocese of Ozieri in Sardinia. The cardinal told reporters ahead of court that the raids were painful for himself and a “humiliation” for the local Sardinian bishop.
Prosecutors are investigating hundreds of thousands of euros transferred from the Italian bishops’ conference into an account affiliated with the Ozieri diocese. The account was allegedly under the singular solely control of the SPES Co-op, a company belonging to Antonio Becciu, the cardinal’s brother.
According to prosecutors, the account was used for “entirely private purposes” and for the “commercial activity” of the company, including investments in mutual funds.
The cardinal has vigorously denied all allegations of wrongdoing and insisted that he will prove his innocence during the trial. At the same time, lawyers for Becciu and his co-defendants continued to argue Friday that the entire case should be dismissed by the Vatican judges, charging that Pope Francis had inappropriately used his sovereign power to dispense prosecutors from observing Vatican legal norms, and had changed procedural laws after the investigation was already underway.
Becciu’s legal team have also demanded that prosecutors hand over hours of testimony and scores of documents seized from his former deputy, Msgr. Alberto Perlsaca, which have not been presented in court because, prosecutors have said, they do not bear upon the case and pertain to other, ongoing, criminal investigations.
A new detail to emerge in recent days is the allegation that Becciu arranged in 2013 the transfer of 100,000 euros from the IOR, a Vatican bank, into the private account of one of his brothers. Becciu maintains that the funds were a loan, which was fully repaid.
The cardinal was originally charged with embezzlement over the transfer, but the charge was downgraded when it became apparent that the money did not come from Secretariat of State funds under his control, but from the IOR.
Prosecutors lowered the charge to abuse of office after they found a June 13, 2013, letter from Becciu to the bank’s then-director, Paolo Cipriani requesting the funds. The money was sent days later, on June 24.
Coincidentally, one week after apparently approving the loan, Cipriani was forced to resign his position at the IOR, along with his deputy Massimo Tulli, over charges of criminal misconduct.
The pair were subsequently convicted for approving millions euros worth of illegitimate transactions and investments.
In a sentence confirmed on appeal last month, the two men were ordered to repay more than 40 million euros to the bank.
The Vatican’s court session on Friday follows weeks of reporting on statements collected by prosecutors in the course of their more than two-year investigation.
Recent disclosures have included accounts of spying by officials at the Secretariat of State and businessmen connected with the London property deal which triggered the investigation.
A former secretariat official has also said that Becciu’s successor at the department, Archbishop Edgar Peña Parra, arranged with officers from Italian intelligence services to sweep his offices for bugs instead of using the Vatican’s own internal security services, raising questions about possible attempts at the secretariat to foil Vatican investigative efforts.
Peña Parra also reportedly engaged the officiers to produce intelligence reports on “certain individuals” connected with the Holy See’s financial affairs.
The court will reconvene for what is expected to be a final pretrial hearing on Feb. 28, after which the judges are expected to rule on the defendants’ motions for dismissal. Assuming those motions are denied, the trial phase is expected to begin in March of this year.