Prosecutors renew charges of Becciu witness tampering
News: Vatican finances
Vatican prosecutors refiled on Tuesday charges of witness tampering against Cardinal Angelo Becciu, after reopening last October their investigation into some of the cardinal’s alleged crimes, along with those of several other defendants in the Vatican’s sprawling financial trial.
The cardinal himself did not attend a hearing in the trial this week, as he continues to challenge the legitimacy of the proceedings, and has opposed prosecutors’ questions to witnesses about whether Becciu might have had a sexual relationship with his alleged co-conspirator, Cecilia Marogna.
Preliminary hearings resumed Jan. 25 in the wide ranging Vatican trial. Judges had previously set Tuesday as the deadline for the prosecution to either re-submit indictments against several defendants or drop charges against them.
The Vatican prosecutors’ decision to refile the charges represents their growing confidence in their case, following months of international criticism over procedural errors in the course of their two-year long investigation.
Becciu, who from 2012 until 2018 served as the effective papal chief of staff, was first charged in July 2021 with crimes of embezzlement, abuse of office, and subornation, which is the inducement of a witness to commit perjury.
At the same time Becciu was indicted, prosecutors announced charges against nine other individuals connected to the financial affairs of the Vatican’s Secretariat of State.
Becciu, the former sostituto at the Secretariat of State and former prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, was sacked from his curial positions by the pope, and made to resign the rights and privileges of a cardinal in July 2020, after Vatican law enforcement presented Francis with the results of an investigation into his financial affairs.
On Tuesday, prosecutors also refiled charges against Raffaele Mincione, the investment manager who managed more than 200 million euros of assets for the Secretariat of State prior to selling the Vatican the London building at 60 Sloane Avenue in 2018.
Prosecutors agreed in November to revisit the charges, after defense lawyers argued the businessman had not been given the chance to respond to the allegations during the investigative phase.
Mincione had argued in a UK court, where he is separately suing the Secretariat of State, that his case should go ahead because the charges against him in the Vatican had been dropped — an argument rejected by the judge.
Charges were also refiled against Fabrizio Tirabassi, a former lay official at the Secretariat of State, Msgr. Mauro Carlino, Becciu’s former secretary, and Nicola Squillace, a lawyer who introduced the Secretariat of State to Gianluigi Torzi, the broker whose actions in the middle of the Vatican’s purchase of the London building triggered the current trial.
Lawyers for the defendants had argued that their clients had not been given the opportunity to respond to investigator’s findings prior to formal charges being filed, resulting in the reopening of the investigative phase in their cases. While submitting seven files of new evidence related to the re-presented charges, prosecutors said on Tuesday that only one of the defendants had responded to summons during the reopened process.
Prosecutors did drop charges of embezzlement against Tommaso Di Ruzza, the former director of the Holy See’s Financial Information and Supervisory Authority. Di Ruzza remains on trial for abuse of office and breach of confidentiality.
In addition to his role in the Secretariat of State’s London property deal, which triggered the criminal investigation in the summer of 2019, Becciu faces allegations that he funneled Vatican money to family members and to a woman, Cecilia Marogna, who claims to have worked as a private spy for Becciu, and who is also on trial for embezzlement.
The charge of sobornation against the cardinal relates to his contact with Msgr. Alberto Perlasca, Becciu’s former deputy at the Secretariat of State, who has emerged as the prosecution’s star witness in the case.
Becciu did not attend the hearing on Tuesday, the first time he has not appeared in person during the trial. In a statement from his legal team, the cardinal renewed his claims that the Vatican trial was illegitimate, and the charges against him should be thrown out.
In a letter to the court, he explained that his absence was in protest over questions put to Perlasca by investigators during taped depositions in which they asked the priest about a possible illicit personal relationship between Becciu and Morogna, something which Perlasca denied any knowledge of.
Becciu said the line of questioning, during which investigators referenced the work of an Italian comedian who has repeatedly lampooned Becciu and implied a sexual relationship between the cardinal and Marogna, was based on “insinuations and untruths.” Becciu’s lawyers argued that the exchanges should invalidate Perlasca’s evidence since they introduced prejudicial speculation and rumors into the evidence and, the cardinal said, are “harmful to his priestly dignity and offensive to the entire college of cardinals of which he is a member.”
Becciu has repeatedly invoked his cardinalatial dignity, despite being made to resign his rights and privileges as a cardinal by the pope.
Shortly before Christmas, he wrote an open letter to Cardinal George Pell saying that it was “beneath the dignity of cardinals” for him to respond to questions about millions of euros of “classified” payments Becciu authorized to a small Australian firm during Pell’s prosecution in that country.
Pell, the former prefect of the Vatican’s Secretariat for the Economy, repeatedly clashed with Becciu over efforts to impose financial transparency and accountability regulations ordered by Pope Francis on Becciu’s former department, including in relation to the London property deal.
Defense lawyers also renewed complaints that prosecutors were withholding sections of Perlasca’s testimony, as well as electronic files, messages, and emails gathered during the course of their investigation.
Prosecutors have said that they have already registered all relevant evidence for the trial, and only excluded information which is either irrelevant to the proceedings or directly related to ongoing investigations into other possible criminal activity.
The court is set to resume hearings on Feb. 18, at which time judges are expected to rule on the remaining pre-trial objections raised by lawyers for the defense, and clearing the way for the evidentiary phase of the trial to begin.