The announcement this week that a key player in a Vatican finance scandal will soon face trial, with or without her present, signals that prosecutors are optimistic they have enough evidence of serious financial crimes to finally go to court.
The Vatican City court announced Monday it had dropped a petition to an Italian court for the extradition of Cecilia Marogna, who is accused of embezzling Vatican funds paid to her Slovenia-registered company.
Marogna’s work has been characterized as operating a private global intelligence network for Cardinal Angelo Becciu, which adds an aura of palace intrigue to her likely prosecution. She says she is a “geopolitical analyst” and security consultant.
The decision to drop the extradition request was itself likely aimed at sparing the Vatican City the embarrassment of seeing its extradition request denied by an Italian court. But, while some observers have interpreted the failure to secure extradition as a sign that the Vatican cannot have a strong case, the confirmation of an “imminent” trial for Marogna and her as yet unnamed co-conspirators indicates that prosecutors are ready to go to court -- and that her presence may not be their primary concern.
The trial could prove to be the first formal hearing for the sprawling case being assembled by prosecutors against officials and former officials at the Secretariat of State.
The Vatican press release noted that, in her “imminent” trial, Marogna faces charges of crimes allegedly committed “in conspiracy with others.” Which “others” end up standing trial with her may prove to be far more significant than her own case, regardless of whether she even attends.
Various media outlets have reported that Marogna began her association with the Secretariat of State in 2015, when she says she wrote to Cardinal Angelo Becciu, then sostituto of the First Section of the secretariat, offering her services as a consultant.
Both Marogna and Becciu have repeatedly denied any wrongdoing in relation to payments subsequently made to her by the Secretariat of State. However, details of the timeline of Marogna’s employment by the secretariat raise serious questions about the propriety of some of the payments to Marogna allegedly authorized by Becciu.
On Jan. 18, Associated Press reported that that “According to text messages reported by Vatican prosecutors, Becciu on Dec. 20, 2018, authorized wiring Marogna’s Slovenian-based Logsic firm 75,000 euros ‘because it seems something is starting to move’ in the case of a kidnapped Colombian nun.”
AP also reported that four other payments were made to Marogna’s company, Logsic, between January and July 2019.
The report also included a claim from Becciu that Pope Francis had been aware of the situation, but had insisted upon “great secrecy.”
Becciu was made a cardinal by Pope Francis, and moved out of the Secretariat of State in June 2018.
If, as AP has reported, prosecutors have evidence that Becciu authorized payments to Marogna in December 2018 - six months after he left the secretariat - prosecutors could cite that as evidence that Becciu was still directing the financial affairs of his old department, even after he was transferred to the Congregation for the Causes of Saints.
Becciu was forced to resign both his position as prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints and his rights and privileges as a cardinal in September 2020 The pope reportedly made that decision after being presented with a dossier on Becciu’s handling of the Holy See’s finances by Vatican prosecutors.
It is not clear if Becciu might be named as one of the “others” with whom Marogna will be indicted before a Vatican court.
Canon law provides that only the pope can judge cases involving cardinals, but some canonists have interpreted the pope’s move to strip Becciu of his rights as a cardinal as a step that would allow prosecution in a Vatican court.
Marogna is facing charges of aggravated embezzlement and was arrested Oct. 13 in Milan on an arrest warrant issued by Vatican City prosecutors through Interpol. She has been accused of misusing Vatican funds intended for humanitarian purposes, spending them instead on items like designer label handbags and stays at luxury hotels.
The self-styled security consultant and geopolitical analyst has defended the expenses, saying they were used to establish high-level contacts in countries where the Church faces security risks, and that she may have acted as an intermediary to free kidnapped Catholic clergy and religious sisters.
In an interview with the Italian newspaper Domani, given the week before her Oct. 13 arrest, Marogna said that her work for the secretariat had also involved the use of London-based brokers, adding that the sums of money she was paid - 500,000-600,000 euros - was “small change.”
“I can also tell you that Becciu and I weren’t the only ones running certain businesses,” she said at the time.
Prosecutors’ interest in Margona and her work for the secretariat is an offshoot of a now-sprawling investigation into the financial affairs of the Secretariat of State which began in July of 2019, after officials at the IOR, commonly called the Vatican bank, complained to financial watchdogs about a request from the secretariat for 150 million euros to refinance a mortgage on a London property.
Subsequently, Vatican law enforcement raided offices and homes of several officials at the Secretariat of State involved in financial affairs, with five employees being suspended in Oct. 2019. A sixth, former official, was raided and suspended the following February.
One of those officials, Msgr. Maruo Carlino, was a longtime secretary of Cardinal Becciu at the Secretariat of State. Another, Msgr. Alberto Perlasca, worked for years as the head of the administrative office of the First Section of the Secretariat of State. Italian media have reported that Perlasca is now working with Vatican prosecutors to help them reconstruct the secretariat’s financial dealings and investments. Other removed officials, like Fabrizio Tirabassi, have been linked to a raft of businessmen tied to investments now under investigation.
While the Vatican may not be able to compel Margona to attend her own trial in the city-state, the real spotlight of the prosecution might end up on those alongside whom she is to be “imminently” charged. And, unlike Marogna, their day in court may not be “attendance optional.”