Cardinal Becciu who has been imprisoned for financial crimes

Cardinal Becciu convicted of financial crimes


On Saturday, a Vatican court handed down a historic verdict, sentencing Angelo Becciu, a once influential Italian cardinal and former adviser to Pope Francis, to five years and six months in prison for financial crimes. This marked a significant moment, as Becciu became the highest-ranking clergyman in the Catholic Church to face a Vatican criminal court.

The trial, which began in July 2021, involved Becciu and nine other defendants, including financiers, lawyers, and former Vatican employees, facing charges related to financial crimes centred around a complex London property deal. At the core of the legal proceedings was the €350 million (£300 million) acquisition of a luxury property in London, initiated in 2014, resulting in substantial financial losses for the Vatican.

Court president Giuseppe Pignatone delivered the verdict, accusing Becciu of embezzlement, abuse of office, and witness tampering. Becciu’s lawyer, Fabio Viglione, acknowledged the sentence but expressed the intention to appeal. Additionally, Becciu was fined €8,000.

The trial shed light on the opaque financial dealings of the Holy See, revealing the challenges faced by Pope Francis in his efforts to reform and cleanse the Catholic Church’s finances since assuming leadership in March 2013. A pivotal moment in this process occurred just before the trial, as Francis granted the Vatican’s civilian courts the authority to prosecute cardinals and bishops, a departure from the previous practice of having them judged by a court led by cardinals.

Prosecutor Alessandro Diddi had sought a seven-year and three-month jail term for Becciu, while the other defendants faced varying sentences between almost four and 13 years. Throughout the trial, Becciu vehemently maintained his innocence, dismissing the accusations as baseless and asserting that he never took any illicit funds.

The Holy See positioned itself as an “offended party,” urging the court, through Secretary of State Pietro Parolin, to “punish all crimes.” Four Vatican entities sought compensation from the defendants, including €177million for moral and reputational damage.

More than 80 hearings

With over 80 hearings held in a dedicated courtroom within the Vatican Museums, the trial faced procedural challenges, including complaints from defence lawyers about limited access to crucial evidence. Becciu, a former Vatican diplomat, consistently attended the proceedings. Previously the second-in-command in the Secretariat of State, he resigned abruptly in September 2020 after learning of an investigation against him, following a tenure that spanned from 2011 to 2018.

The charges against Becciu expanded from an initial inquiry into a €125,000 donation to a Sardinian charity, allegedly benefiting his brother, to investigations involving the London property deal. Prosecutors depicted a narrative of risky investments, lacking oversight, and double-dealing by external consultants and insiders. Among the defendants were key figures in the London deal, including brokers Gianluigi Torzi and Raffaele Mincione, former Vatican investment manager Enrico Crasso, and ex-Vatican employee Fabrizio Tirabassi.

Becciu also faced accusations related to payments made to Cecilia Marogna, a Sardinian woman also on trial, which he claimed were intended to facilitate the release of a Colombian nun abducted in Mali.

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