Cardinal Angelo Besio, once a confidant of Pope Francis, is on trial, along with nine other defendants, for allegedly embezzling donations, among other things.
A historic trial over a major financial scandal began in the Vatican on Tuesday. Ten people were charged, including prominent Cardinal Angelo Piccio. This is the first time that the Vatican prosecutors indict a cardinal. The accused appeared early in the morning in a makeshift courtroom set up for the trial in the Vatican Museums.
Cardinal Angelo Picchio, who served as Pope Francis’ chief of staff until his removal last September, is accused of embezzlement, abuse of office and other crimes. The Vatican State Secretariat participates in the process as a joint plaintiff and is represented by prominent lawyer and former Italian Minister of Justice Paola Severino.
In terms of content, not much is expected from Tuesday’s session. The operation can be postponed until after the summer vacation. The three-member panel of judges is headed by Chief Justice Giuseppe Pignatoni, one of Italy’s most respected public prosecutors. Pope Francis appointed him in 2019 as head of the Vatican Court.
Failed real estate deal in the posh Chelsea neighborhood
The background to the operation is a failed property deal in the Chelsea area of London, which took place in 2018 and 2019 and made headlines. At that time, the work resulted in great losses for the Vatican as a country. It is also said that funds for the business have been withdrawn from Peterspfennig, the Vatican’s annual global collection. The charges include embezzlement, corruption, extortion, money laundering, fraud, abuse of office and document falsification.
Several authorities in Italy and the Vatican have investigated the matter since July 2019. The investigations extended internationally to the United Arab Emirates, Great Britain, Channel Island Jersey, Luxembourg, Slovenia and Switzerland. The measure came on the heels of transparency reforms in the Vatican’s finances, which Pope Francis has initiated since the beginning of his pontificate in 2013.
Luxury goods instead of charity
Among the other defendants is the former head of the Financial Information Authority of the Vatican (AIF) René Brullhart of Switzerland. He and investment fund manager Enrico Crasso were also accused of abuse of power. The former director of the AIF, Tommaso de Rosa, also has to face the court in the Vatican. The only woman accused is Cecilia Marugna, a confidant of Cardinal Picchio. In 2015, she received hundreds of thousands of euros from Becciu – allegedly for charitable purposes. However, Marogna spent a significant part of the money on private luxury goods.
Investment banker Gianluigi Torzi, for whom Italian authorities had already issued an arrest warrant in April, was also called. The judiciary accuses him of money laundering and billing for bogus financial operations. In the real estate deal in London, the Italian was said to have made an illegal profit of 15 million euros. Part of this is said to have gone into buying stock.
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