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Becciu to appeal ‘absurd’ criminal conviction

Hours after Cardinal Angelo Becciu was convicted in a Vatican City courtroom on multiple counts of embezzlement, the prelate’s lawyers said the cardinal will appeal — calling the trial against Becciu a “proven machination” against an innocent man.

Cardinal Angelo Becciu. Claude Truong-Ngoc / Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 4.0).

“After 86 hearings, there is profound bitterness to acknowledge that Cardinal Becciu's total innocence was not proclaimed by [judicial] sentence, despite all the accusations proving to be completely unfounded,” Becciu’s attorneys, Maria Concetta Marzo and Fabio Viglione, said in a statement Dec. 16.

Their statement came soon after Becciu was sentenced to serve more than five years in prison for three instances of embezzlement — one having to do with a Vatican property deal, another connected to a woman who styled herself Becciu’s “private spy,” and third coming closer to home: Becciu’s decision to transfer Vatican funds to bank accounts belonging to his brother.

“Although the ruling saddens us deeply, we have solid certitude: Cardinal Becciu, faithful servant of the pope and the Church, has always acted in the interests of the Secretariat of State and has not had any advantage for himself or his family,” the lawyers said.

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In addition to his sentence of incarceration, Becciu was ordered to pay a fine of 8,000 euros, and is perpetually disqualified from holding public offices in the Vatican City State.

But the cardinal’s planned appeal will suspend any prospect of eventual incarceration. If the cardinal is incarcerated, he would likely be imprisoned in an Italian detention facility, in light of treaty agreements between Italy and the Holy See.  

As his appeal proceeds, it is not clear whether Pope Francis will formally revoke Becciu’s membership in the college of cardinals, resolving uncertainty about whether he is eligible to vote in the eventual conclave election for Francis' successor.

While Becciu’s attorneys say they have “unshaken confidence” that their client will win an appeal, it is not clear whether other figures convicted on Saturday — including businessmen Raffaele Mincione and Gianluigi Torzi, and security consultant Cecilia Marogna —  will appeal their convictions. 

Regardless of whether they appeal their convictions, it is not clear whether the Vatican will succeed if it attempts to extradite some figures, including Mincione, who is now living in the United Kingdom.

Becciu was convicted in a court of the Vatican City State, a small territory recognized as a state in international law, which is governed by the Holy See, the distinct sovereign entity of the Church in international and legal affairs. 

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For his part, Becciu’s conviction Saturday boiled down to three charges:

First, Becciu invested Vatican Secretariat of State funds when in 2013 and 2014 he facilitated the investment of $200 million into a “highly speculative” hedge fund controlled by Mincione, which “entailed a strong capital risk,” seemingly without proper authorization to do so.

Second, that Becciu acted criminally when he supplied 570,000 euros to Cecilia Marogna, a woman who described herself as a “private spy,” under false pretenses. The court said the pair were dishonest when they said the money would be used to free a religious sister who had been kidnapped in Africa.

Third, that Becciu illegally transferred Vatican funds into the accounts of a company controlled by his brother, violating canonical prohibitions against alienating ecclesiastical property to relatives. 

Becciu has always maintained his innocence, claiming in 2019 — well before his indictment — that journalists had “misled the faithful” with “false” reporting about him.

And Becciu’s lawyers on Saturday called his convictions “absurd.” They also said their client will eventually be exonerated.

“We respect the sentence, we will read its reasoning, but we remain certain that sooner or later the absurdity of the accusations against the cardinal will be recognized and therefore the truth: His Eminence Becciu is innocent,” the lawyers said.

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