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Vatican judges dismiss defense motions, end evidence phase in financial trial

Judges have ruled that the evidentiary phase of the Vatican financial trial will close in June, nearly two years after the trial began. 

A three-judge tribunal delivered the decision to end witness depositions on Friday in Vatican City, clearing the way for prosecutors to begin their arguments on July 18.

The defense will begin their arguments in October.

Cardinal Angelo Becciu attends Christmas Eve Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica, 2022. Credit: Alamy Live News


The case began in July of 2021, after the Vatican City Office of the Promoter of Justice issued a nearly 500-page indictment against 10 defendants connected to the financial affairs of the Secretariat of State, including former sostituto Cardinal Angelo Becciu.

Allowing for delays and appeals, the court’s published schedule for final arguments would point to a verdict likely arriving in the summer or autumn of next year, more than three years into the process.

The judges, led by chief justice Giuseppe Pignatone, issued the decision May 26, the day of the sixtieth hearing of the case so far. The judges cleared the way for the evidentiary phase to end by rejecting a slew of appeals and objections lodged by defense lawyers, including those of Cardinal Becciu. 

The lawyers had demanded prosecutors deposit into evidence a trove of WhatApp messages sent by Genevieve Ciferri, the woman who claims to have worked with the prosecution star witness, and Becciu’s former deputy, Msgr Alberto Perlasca as he prepared his statements to prosecutors during their initial investigation.

Becciu’s legal team had also renewed their demand that prosecutors be ordered to turn over the full and unedited transcripts and video of Perlasca’s depositions. 

Both motions were rejected by the court after prosecutors argued that the material was part of ongoing criminal investigations into other potential crimes.

Becciu said after the hearing that the redacted material was essential for proving his innocence and reiterated his claims that he was the victim of a “plot” by Cifferri and Perlasca, whom he had previously attempted to sue in Italian court. That case was dismissed by judges and Becciu was ordered to pay damages.

Becciu also claimed that those who had given evidence against him to prosecutors had “made use of the pope” in order to “carry out a vengeful plan against [him].” 

Becciu himself has made frequent appeals to Pope Francis throughout the legal process, attempting to secure papal intervention on his behalf and had members of his family secretly record the pope discussing confidential state affairs on a phone call

Despite the cardinal’s requests, Francis waived the provisions of state secrecy to allow Becciu to answer charges in court on his relationship with Cecilia Marogna, the woman who claims to have been employed by Becciu as a private intelligence operative.  

Also on Friday, the Vatican City court heard further testimony from Raffaele Mincione, the Anglo-Italian financier who sold the Secretariat of State the London building at 60 Sloane Ave. as part of the terms of separation for the secretariat withdrawing from his Athena Global Opportunities fund, into which it had invested some 200 million euros.

Mincione is also one of the ten defendants on trial, facing charges of embezzlement, fraud, money laundering, and abuse of office. 

He was questioned in relation to a further charge of corruption, filed by prosecutors earlier this year, which he denied, telling the court that he had never offered or delivered financial incentives to either Enrico Crasso, the former investment advisor who first introduced Mincione to the secretariat, or Fabrizio Tirabassi, the former official at the Secretariat of State responsible for financial administration.

Mincione also denied he was solicited for bribes or other inducements by either man, both of whom are also on trial for financial crimes. The financier also answered questions about a list of expenses to be paid by the Holy See which he sent to Gianluigi Torzi in relation to the building’s transfer in 2018.

Torzi, also a defendant in the trial, was appointed by the Secretariat of State to convey ownership of the London building, which was owned via a series of nested holding companies in the Channel Islands, through his own holding company in Luxembourg, Gutt SA.

Torzi is accused of extorting the Holy See for millions of euros for control of the building after he restructured the shares of Gutt to leave himself in control of the company, and therefore the building, even after transferring majority ownership to the Vatican.  

Mincione said Friday that he forwarded a list of expenses and fees to Torzi, which included “commission fees” for third parties, as a “defensive” act after Crasso and Perlasca had questioned his requests for funds and “slandered” him.

Referring to Torzi as “the new head of management” for the building, Mincione said he relied upon him to ensure the requests for payment would be met after a breakdown in trust between Mincione and the secretariat.

The Pillar has previously reported that that Mincione invested Vatican money in debt products marketed by Torzi, some with links to mafia-affiliated companies. Mincione invested Vatican money into one such debt product called Sierra One bond, which was managed by another Torzi associate, Giacomo Capizzi. 

Torzi, in turn, used his companies to lend Mincione tens of millions of euros during the same period.

In addition to being a defendant in the Vatican City trial, Mincione is suing the Secretariat of State and its former Swiss bank in UK court and court in Luxembourg.

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On Thursday, May 25, the court heard evidence from Cardinal Fernado Filoni, Becciu’s predecessor as sostituto at the secretariat until 2011, when he was made prefect of the then-Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples.

Filoni was questioned about the role of Fabrizio Tirabassi, who liaised with several Swiss banks on behalf of the Vatican as part of his work at the secretariat’s administrative office.

Filoni confirmed that as sostituto he had authorized Tirabassi to act with power of attorney for the secretariat when dealing with the banks because, he told the court, the Holy See needed a designated legal representative. 

Filoni confirmed that he was aware that, as part of his function, Tirabassi had been offered some kind of “discounts” by UBS as a consideration for the volume of financial transactions he carried out for the Vatican through the bank. 

But, Filoni said, he had not been informed of the details, or that it meant Tirabassi could make millions of euros in fees from the bank for steering Vatican business through it. 

Had he known the details of the administrator’s arrangement with the bank, Filoni said he would have raised serious objections, and that he had presumed Tirabassi would act in the Vatican’s best interests “since he was our employee, employed by us, [to] work in favor of the Secretariat of State.”

Also on Thursday, the judges declared the continued absence of Fr. Mario Curzu of Becciu’s home diocese in Sardinia to be illegitimate.

Curzu has been repeatedly summoned for questioning by the court, together with Cardinal Becciu’s brother, in relation to charges of embezzlement against the cardinal, including through the funneling of a total 250,000 euros in Church funds sent to bank accounts controlled by his brother, ostensibly meant for the Spes Coperative, a charity in Sardinia, and the local branch of Caritas.

Curzu is the director of the local branch of Caritas. 

Both men have repeatedly failed to appear. During the hearing on Thursday, chief judge Guiseppe Pignatone declared Curzu’s most recent excuse that he could not attend the hearing because of “particularly intense pastoral commitments” to be “specious.”

Cardinal Becciu told the court earlier this year that it was “normal practice” for him to wire hundreds of thousands of euros from Vatican accounts to the personal bank accounts of family members and that he “never wanted a euro, not even a cent, that [he] had managed or even just knew about, to be diverted, misused or destined to purposes that were not exclusively institutional.”

But despite that claim, Italian financial police had identified forged delivery receipts for nearly 20 tons of bread, which was supposedly delivered to parishes by Spes for distribution to the poor.

In November last year, Vatican prosecutors told the court that their Italian counterparts had found the forged receipts among nearly 1,000 pages of paperwork they examined.

When the paperwork for the supposed deliveries was produced, no one recognized the signatures on the documents, prosecutors said, and Italian financial police concluded that they were created weeks prior to the police searches and meant to cover supposed deliveries dating back to 2018, for which no other records exist.

Both Cardinal Becciu’s brother and Fr. Curzu are under investigation by Italian authorities in Sardinia as part of their enquiry into the matter. 

Sources close to the prosecution have previously told The Pillar that the priest and Becciu’s brother are refusing to appear because they are concerned that they would be asked questions which would have left them with the choice of either implicating themselves in criminal activity or making false statements which could have been used against them by Italian prosecutors.

The trial remains ongoing.

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