ROME – The Vatican has set a trial date for 10 people on July 27, including the once-powerful cardinal and pope contender, on charges related to the Holy See’s € 350 million investment in a luxury London real estate venture.
The 487-page indictment concluded a two-year investigation that revealed that the Vatican lost millions of euros – most of it donations from believers – in broker fees, bad investments and other questionable expenses. In addition, prosecutors bring a range of charges against the accused, including extortion, embezzlement, abuse of office and corruption.
Here’s a breakdown of the case, charges, and some of the key players.
What’s the matter?
The Vatican State Secretariat decided in 2013 to invest an initial € 200 million in a fund run by Italian businessman Raffaele Mincione, with half of the money going to a building in London and half to other investments.
By 2018, Minchone’s fund, Athena Capital, had lost € 18 million in initial investment from the Vatican, prosecutors said, prompting the Vatican to seek an exit strategy while maintaining its stake in a building in London’s upscale Chelsea neighborhood.
Here is Gianluigi Torzi, another broker who helped arrange for the Vatican to pay Minchona 40 million euros for shares in the building that the Holy See did not yet have.
But prosecutors say Torzi then tricked the Holy See: instead of forming a company to manage the building, which was controlled by the Vatican, Torzi inserted a clause in the contract giving him full voting rights in the deal, they claim. According to prosecutors, Torzi extorted 15 million euros from the Vatican in order to gain control of the building.
Torzi said the accusations are a misunderstanding.
WHO KNEW IN THE VATICAN?
Prosecutors admitted that Pope Francis was aware of the deal and even attended a meeting with Torzi in December 2018. One witness said that Francis agreed to pay Torzi “fair” compensation for the transfer of the building.
Other senior officials, including Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin and his Deputy Archbishop Edgar Pena Parra, were also aware of and approved of the Torzi deal. The documents show that Pena Parra authorized one of his deputies to sign a contract with Torzi, giving him full voting rights.
None of them have been charged. Prosecutors say they did not understand the changes to Torzi’s contract, were kept in the dark about Torzi and Minchone’s deals, their previous business relationship, and the alleged commissions other parties to the deal were receiving on the side.
WHO IS CARDINAL BECCU AND HOW IS IT ATTACHED TO THIS COURT?
Cardinal Angelo Becciu is the only cardinal charged and will become the first cardinal prosecuted by a tribunal after Pope Francis changed the Vatican law allowing laymen to try cardinals. Becciu denies any wrongdoing.
Becciu was once one of the most influential prelates of the Vatican and could lay claim to the future Pope before Francis dismissed him as head of the Chancellery of the Holy See last year.
In September, Francis asked him to resign and stripped him of his cardinal rights and privileges, citing a € 100,000 donation that Becciu made with Vatican money to a diocesan charity run by his brother. At the time of the donation, Becciu was ranked third in the Secretariat of State and had the authority to make decisions on the office’s extensive portfolio of assets.
Becciu is linked to another person involved in the case, Cecilia Marogna. She is accused of embezzling funds from the Holy See that Becciu allowed for her intelligence work, ostensibly to free Catholic priests and nuns taken hostage in hostile parts of the world. The prosecutor’s office claims that it instead spent the money on luxury goods.
Marogna denies wrongdoing and says she can give a full account of how the money was spent.
WHAT DOES A CRIMINAL COURT LIKE IN A VATICAN?
The Vatican’s criminal code is based on the Italian legal code of 1889, as well as elements of the canon law of the worldwide Catholic Church. In recent years, the Pope has updated the code to include many financial crimes, specifically to address the types of misconduct reported in Saturday’s indictment.
The Vatican Tribunal is under pressure to prosecute financial crimes as part of the Holy See’s involvement in the Council of Europe’s Moneyval process, which aims to help countries fight money laundering and terrorist financing.
The Vatican joined the Moneyval appraisal program over a decade ago in an effort to shake off its image of a shady offshore tax haven.
The Vatican has equipped a new courtroom for the upcoming trial of the Vatican Museums, given that its usual criminal tribunal would be too small for the accused and their lawyers. If convicted, the defendant could face jail time, fines, or both.