Cardinal Angelo Becciu authorized “classified” payments from the Vatican to a company in Australia during 2016 and 2017. The cardinal told The Pillar this week they are unrelated to the trial of Cardinal George Pell, which was underway at the time.
Four international wire transfers, from 2016 to 2017, which total more than AU$2 million, are under investigation by financial authorities in Australia because they raised red flags amid an audit of financial transfers between the two jurisdictions.
Cardinal Becciu’s lawyer on Wednesday told The Pillar that the transfers are part of the “official activities by the Secretariat of State which, by nature, are classified and couldn’t be possibly commented on.”
But senior Church and government officials close to the Secretary of State and the Secretariat for the Economy told The Pillar this week that two of the payments were approved in an authorization document signed by Cardinal Becciu, with the other two payments signed by another secretariat official in a separate authorization.
The money was sent to the Melbourne offices of technology and security company Neustar.
Becciu’s attorney told The Pillar that Becciu’s action was above board.
“I want to stress that His Eminence has always discharged his office duties with full transparency and correctness, with absolute loyalty to the Holy Father and the Church,” he said Sept. 29.
But the payments have been linked in the Italian press to allegations of interference in the criminal trial of Pell, which led first to his conviction on allegations of sexual abuse and his later exoneration by the Australian High Court.
While he said the cardinal was unable to discuss the purpose of the transfers, Becciu’s attorney told The Pillar that any suggestion his client tampered with witnesses during Pell’s criminal trial is “false.”
The attorney added that Becciu has “vehemently denied, time and again” witness tampering during Pell’s trial.
In January, Australian Senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells told The Catholic Weekly that she had made formal requests of AUSTRAC to investigate the transfers.
“There are serious allegations relating to the alleged use of funds in the Pell matter and, as I have said from the outset, they will have significant consequences if they are true,” Fierravanti-Wells told the newspaper.
“Accordingly, all relevant law enforcement authorities need to expedite pursuit of the facts and undertake full and appropriate investigations,” she said.
Earlier that same month, Austrac, the Australian financial intelligence service, revised a 2020 report which claimed that Vatican entities had transferred more than $1.5 billion into the country during the years 2014-2020. Citing a coding error in their data processing, AUSTRAC admitted a dramatic miscalculation, and confirmed that the real figure was just over $6.5 million.
At the same time, the agency admitted that some financial transfers remained unexplained and were under investigation.
Joint investigations by both Australian and Vatican financial authorities found a total of AU $9.5 million during the six year period, which the Vatican has said are “attributable, among other things, to a number of contractual obligations and the ordinary management of resources.” However, according to a January report by The Australian newspaper, only $7 million worth of transactions were identifiable as legitimate by Austrac.
The remaining AU$2.5 million included four payments from the Vatican to the Melbourne offices of Neustar, a tech and security company, in the years 2016-2017 and an earlier 2015 transfer of $150,000.
Since January, the transfers have prompted questions about possible interference in the trial of Cardinal Pell, who had to leave his role overseeing Vatican financial reform in 2017 to return to Australia to face trial.
Becciu has been accused of attempting to shield investments from the Vatican’s Secretariat for the Economy, which was led by Pell at the time. This led to several reported clashes between Becciu and Pell, who was in charge of cleaning up Vatican finances from 2014-2017.
Becciu has since faced frequent questions about his role directing financial affairs at the Secretariat of State, even after he was transferred out of the department in 2018. Among other things, the cardinal authorized payment to a self-described “security consultant” and political analyst who has been charged by the Vatican with embezzlement.
That consultant, Cecilia Marogna, is now on trial with Becciu in Vatican City; she has been charged with embezzlement and fraud.
Marogna has said that she was contracted by Becciu, through the Secretariat of State, as a “kind of spy,” and that the cardinal maintained a personal intelligence network which gathered potentially compromising information on senior Church officials.
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Australian Federal Police announced in February that they had concluded their own investigation into Vatican-Australian money transfers based on the initial dossier of information handed to it by Austrac in 2020 and found no evidence of criminal activity.
“If the AFP receives additional information from Australian or international partners it will be reviewed accordingly,” the police said in a February statement.
Austrac has not made any statement on the progress of investigations into the outstanding AU$2.5 million of transfers.
Speculation about possible witness-tampering by Vatican officials in the Pell case began when the Italian newspapers Corriere della Sera and Il Messagero reported in October last year that the transfers were part of a dossier of evidence against Cardinal Becciu being investigated by Vatican authorities as part of the Vatican financial scandal centered on the Secretariat of State, where Cardinal Becciu served as sostituto until June, 2018.
The newspapers reported that the transfers, which were suggested to have been linked to Pell’s trial, had been flagged to Vatican prosecutors by Msgr. Alberto Perlasca, Becciu’s former deputy in the Secretariat of State’s first section and star witness in the ongoing Vatican financial scandal trial.
Becciu’s lawyer told The Pillar Wednesday that the Vatican City Promoter of Justice had not filed “any charges whatsoever related to those false claims [of involvement in Pell’s trial], which His Eminence has vehemently denied, time and again.”
Cardinal Becciu is currently on trial in Vatican City on charges of embezzlement and abuse of office. The cardinal is first in centuries to appear in a Vatican court for alleged financial misconduct.
In September last year, Pope Francis ordered Becciu to resign his position as the prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints and his rights as a cardinal, after the pope was reportedly presented with a dossier of evidence against him by Vatican prosecutors related to alleged financial misconduct.
Becciu has been linked to a series of financial scandals at the Secretariat of State, including some involving Church-run hospitals, along with the London property deal.
Becciu’s Vatican City trial officially got underway on July 27, but proceedings have so far focused on the filing of witness statements. The next hearing in the trial is scheduled for October 5.