Vatican City

Cardinal calls accusations ‘grotesque’ at Vatican corruption trial


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Cardinal calls accusations ‘grotesque’ at Vatican corruption trial

FILE PHOTO: Cardinal Giovanni Angelo Becciu, who has been caught up in a real estate scandal, pauses as he speaks to the media a day after he resigned suddenly and gave up his right to take part in an eventual conclave to elect a pope, near the Vatican, in Rome, Italy, September 25, 2020. REUTERS/Guglielmo Mangiapane/File Photo

REUTERS/Guglielmo Mangiapane/File Photo

Cardinal Angelo Becciu is one of 10 defendants accused of fraud, extortion, money laundering, embezzlement and other crimes, mostly linked to the Vatican's purchase of a luxury building in London in 2018

VATICAN CITY – The cardinal at the center of a huge corruption trial testified for the first time on Thursday, March 17, saying he was the victim of a “media massacre” and would prove he had not embezzled even one cent of the Vatican’s money.

Cardinal Angelo Becciu is one of 10 defendants accused of fraud, extortion, money laundering, embezzlement and other crimes, mostly linked to the Vatican’s purchase of a luxury building in London for 350 million euros ($400 million) in 2018.

He and all the others deny any wrongdoing.

“I have been preceded by an unprecedented media massacre, presented as the worst of cardinals … described as a corrupt man, greedy for money, disloyal to the pope, concerned only with the welfare of my family members,” Becciu said in an opening statement.

The 73-year-old called all the accusations absurd, grotesque and monstrous. He said he “never wanted a euro, indeed a cent” of the money that he managed for the Vatican “to be misappropriated, misused or used for purposes that were not exclusively institutional”.

Becciu, once a powerful Vatican power broker, was the first defendant to testify at the trial, which started in July but spent months bogged down in preliminary arguments.

As a sovereign state, the Vatican has its own judicial system. The trial is taking place in a makeshift courtroom in the Vatican Museums because the regular courtroom too small for all the defendants and lawyers.

Questions by Giuseppe Pignatone, the president of a three-judge tribunal, focused on accusations that Becciu helped steer Vatican money to charity organizations run by his family on their native island of Sardinia.

Becciu was asked about a loan of 130,000 euros that a charity – run by his brother and which had received Vatican money – had made to a friend of the Becciu family in Sardinia.

The cardinal said he did not know about the loan at the time and only found out about it later in the media.

Pignatone also asked Becciu if he would continue to assert that “pontifical secrecy”, similar to state secrecy, might make it impossible for him to answer questions about co-defendant Cecilia Marogna.

Becciu said he would still claim the right unless Vatican authorities decided to lift it.

Marogna, 42, worked for Becciu in 2018-2019 and is charged with embezzlement. She received 575,000 euros ($640,000) from the Secretariat of State, according the 500-page indictment issued last July.

The Secretariat of State is the most important department in the Vatican. It runs its diplomacy, the administration the worldwide Catholic Church, and the Vatican bureaucracy.

A self-styled secret agent, she has said she used the Vatican money to ransom kidnapped missionaries in Africa. Maragona, who is also from Sardinia, has denied charges that she used some of the money to buy luxury goods.

Pignatone ruled that the court would ask the Secretariat of State to decide whether pontifical secrecy could be waived.

The trial was adjourned until March 30. –

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