In the Vatican, a court of the Papal States has brought charges against a cardinal for the first time.
In addition to the 73-year-old Sardinian Angelo Becciu, who was most recently prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, nine other suspects face charges of embezzlement, fraud, abuse of office, money laundering and extortion.
Charges were also brought against four companies wholly or partly owned by the accused.
As the Vatican's press office announced on Saturday, the trial will open with a first hearing on July 27th.
Political correspondent for Italy, the Vatican, Albania and Malta based in Rome.
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The indictment concludes a good two year investigation into a risky and, according to prosecutors, fraudulent investment by the Holy See in a property in the Chelsea district of London. A significant part of the approximately 350 million euros that the Vatican State Secretariat is said to have paid for the acquisition of the former warehouse comes from the so-called Peterspfennig fund. Every year the Pope calls for the solemn feast of the apostles Peter and Paul on June 29th to donate St.
The 490-page indictment traces how the State Secretariat has spent more and more money on all kinds of intermediaries, brokers and consultants since the first investment of 200 million euros in 2013. The prosecutors, led by Chief Public Prosecutor Gian Piero Milano, are convinced that the accused in a concerted action, on the one hand, hushed up high initial losses of the investment and on the one hand sneaked more and more funds from the State Secretariat through complicated cross deals.
The middlemen are said to have secured excessive margins and fees in the millions. Luxury lofts for solvent buyers are to be built in the London building. Whether the previous investments will pay off and whether the accumulated losses can be partially or fully compensated will only become apparent after the renovation and the sale of the apartments.
In addition to Becciu, high-ranking employees of the State Secretariat and various financial institutions of the Vatican, Italian business people with longstanding ties to the Holy See, an advisor with close personal relationships with Cardinal Becciu and the Swiss lawyer René Brülhart are also accused. Brülhart was appointed head of the Vatican Financial Information Authority (FIA) by Pope Francis in November 2014 and gave up the important supervisory office in the Vatican five years later. At the time it was said that Brülhart's term at the top of the FIA had expired, but his resignation was apparently in connection with the investigation into the London investment scandal.
Becciu, who at the time of the first investment in London held the key position of a substitute in the State Secretariat, again rejected all allegations against him at the weekend.
Becciu affirmed that he was the victim of a conspiracy and that he was convinced that his innocence would be proven in the course of the trial.
Becciu faces up to five years imprisonment if found guilty.
Brülhart also rejected the allegations.
Four Italian investment advisors with once good relations with the State Secretariat are facing the longest imprisonment between nine and 17 years.
Cardinals can now also be tried by professional judges
As a consequence of the real estate scandal, Pope Francis withdrew the State Secretariat of the Vatican's financial sovereignty over its own funds such as St. Peter's penny last November and transferred the management of all assets and real estate to the APSA. Through a tightening of the criminal law of the Papal States, which he ordered, Francis also made it possible for bishops and cardinals to be tried by professional judges and no longer just by clerics as was previously the case.
The mortgage for the process that is now beginning is that Pope Francis not only dismissed Cardinal Becciu from the office of Prefect of the Congregation for Beatification and Canonization last September, but also deprived him of all rights associated with the dignity of cardinals, especially since he had the right to participate in the conclave Election of a new Pope. This unprecedented disempowerment amounts to a prejudice of Beccius. Conversely, Francis has shielded the incumbent Cardinal State Secretary Pietro Parolin, who is ultimately responsible for the real estate affair and is said to have been informed about it, from all accusations. He is considered the Pope's closest confidante in the Vatican.Keywords: