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Vatican prosecutors to try ten in financial scandal

July 05, 2021

The Vatican is seeking indictments against ten people— including Cardinal Angelo Becciu— and four corporations in connection with a financial scandal over a London real-estate deal.

In a 487-page document, containing the results of a two-year investigation, the Promoter of Justice asked for indictments against:

  • three former officials of the Secretariat of State: Cardinal Becciu, Msgr. Mauro Carlino, and Fabrizio Tirabassi;
  • two former executives of the Vatican’s Financial Information Authority: Rene Bruelhart and Tommaso Di Ruzza, the president and director, respectively, of the agency; and
  • several investors, brokers, and agents involved in the London deal, including Gianluigi Torzi, Raffalele Mincione, and Cecilia Marogan, whose roles in the London deal have already drawn public notoriety.

The crimes listed in the prosecutor’s charge include fraud, embezzlement, abuse of office, misappropriation of funds, money-laundering, corruption, extortion, publication of documents under the cover of secrecy, false documentation, and falsified internal agreements. The first hearing in the case before a Vatican tribunal is scheduled for July 27.

The request of indictments is particularly significant because it comes shortly after a Moneyval report that criticized the Vatocan for not aggressively prosecuting violations of financial regulations, and for a failure to pursue charges against high-ranking officials. The charge against Cardinal Becciu— who has already been forced to step down from his post as prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints— represents an important new step for the Vatican in its campaign against financial corruption.

However, the document released on July 3 does not name Cardinal Pietro Parolin or Archbishop Edgar Peña Parra, the Vatican Secretary of State and his deputy. Both reportedly gave their approval to questionable aspects of the London deal. But the prosecutor’s document says that these top Vatican officials had been misled about the transaction, portraying them as victims of fraud.

Cardinal Becciu— who began the complicated financial transactions while he was sostituto, or deputy, in the Secretariat of State— claims that he, too, is a victim “of a plant hatched against me.” He said that he welcomes the prospect of a day in court, “to know any accusations against me, to allow myself to promptly deny them and prove to the world my absolute innocence.”

Msgr. Carlino, who was a subordinate to Cardinal Becciu, also professed his innocence, saying that his only involvement in the London transaction was to negotiate the details of a deal that his superiors had approved.

Fabrizio Tirabassi, another official in the Secretariat of State, faces more serious charges. He had apparently been paid a commission by a Swiss bank on all Vatican funds deposited there. The prosecutor charges that he exploited the Vatican investment portfolio to enrich himself.

The prosecutor’s statement reveals that 77% of the investments handled by the Secretariat of State were deposited at Credit Suisse, the bank which gave Tirabassi a commission. Those funds—chiefly donations given to the Pope— were often invested in speculative ventures, the prosecutor says, including funds operated by individuals and corporations with questionable backgrounds. The document claims that Vatican funds had not previously been invested in such high-risk ventures.

The charge against Rene Bruelhart, who was head of what was then known as the Financial Information Authority, says that his office “overlooked the anomalies of the London transaction.” Bruelhart denies any wrongdoing and says that he expects a trail will show “the truth about my innocence.”

One crucial factor in the prosecution’s case, and the trial that will ensue, is the enormous power of the Secretariat of State. Cardinal Becciu had previously been successful in deflecting efforts by the Vatican’s own Secretariat for the Economy and Auditor General to check his investment schemes. Other Vatican officials may have been reluctant to oppose his plans, for fear of suffering the consequences. It is a measure of Cardinal Becciu’s influence that, according to the prosecutor’s document, he authorized one key financial transaction even after he had left the Secretariat of State and no longer had any official jurisdiction over the matter.

The request for indictments against outsiders— notably Torzi and Mincione— charges that they grossly overestimated the value of London assets, and deliberately misled Vatican officials about the funds they had invested.

 


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