At embezzlement trial, lawyers plead against Vatican jurisdiction

VATICAN CITY (CNS) – On the first day of a Vatican trial involving allegations of embezzlement, money laundering and abuse of power, lawyers for 10 defendants, including Cardinal Angelo Becciu, put questioned the Vatican’s competence to prosecute their clients and insisted they needed more time to prepare their defense.

After seven hours of listening to defense lawyers and a lawyer from the Vatican Secretariat of State, Giuseppe Pignatone, president of the Vatican City State Criminal Court, said the trial would resume on 5 October, when he would deal with the objections raised by the accused. ‘lawyers.

Most of the accusations stem from a Vatican investigation into how the Secretariat of State used $ 200 million to finance a real estate development project in London’s upscale Chelsea neighborhood, a project that has incurred millions of dollars. dollars in debt.

Speaking to reporters after the audience ended, Cardinal Becciu, a central figure in the Vatican’s purchase of the building, said he was present at the hearing because he was “obedient to the Pope , who sent me to judgment “.

“I am serene, I feel at peace in my conscience, I have confidence that the judges will know the facts well, and my great hope is that they recognize with certainty my innocence”, he declared.

The Italian cardinal also told reporters that he had ordered his lawyers to file a complaint against Bishop. Alberto Perlasca, the former head of the administrative office of the Vatican Secretariat of State, and Francesca Chaouqui for defamation.

Mgr. Perlasca was first considered a possible suspect after Vatican police seized documents, computers and even floppy disks from his home and office in 2020. However, the report says he asked to speak to investigators.

According to the indictment, Mgr. Perlasca provided investigators with “a valuable contribution to the reconstruction of some central moments relating to the London property case”.

In 2016, Chaouqui, a member of the former Pontifical Commission of Reference on the Economic and Administrative Structure of the Holy See, was found guilty by a Vatican court of disclosing confidential documents on Vatican finances and was sentenced to 10 months suspended sentence.

Of the 10 people tried, the only defendants present for the opening day were Cardinal Becciu, former prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, and Mgr. Mauro Carlino, former secretary of the cardinal. The eight other defendants were represented by their lawyers.

Mgr. Carlino is accused of extortion and abuse of power.

Fabrizio Tirabassi, a former official at the Secretariat of State, is accused of corruption, extortion, embezzlement, fraud and abuse of power.

A lawyer representing Enrico Crasso, a longtime investment manager accused of embezzlement and money laundering, said the charges made by Vatican prosecutors “would not be possible in any other legal system in the world.”

Two companies owned by Crasso – Prestige Family Office SA and Sogenel Capital Investment – were included in the indictment.

Paola Severino, the lawyer representing the Secretariat of State and the Administration of the Patrimony of the Holy See, disputed the claims of the lawyer that the tribunal was a “special tribunal”.

“It is a mistaken message that this is an ‘ad hoc’ tribunal set up for this case,” she said. “This is the Vatican criminal court.”

René Brülhart and Tommaso di Ruzza, respectively former president and former director of the Vatican financial monitoring agency, now known as the Financial Supervisory and Information Authority, are also among the defendants.

Lawyers for several other players involved in the purchase of the controlling stake in the London property were also present at the first hearing, including counsel for Gianluigi Torzi, an Italian broker who served as an intermediary in the deal. development agency, and London-based Italian financier Raffaele Mincione, the owner of the London property, who is accused of embezzlement, fraud, abuse of office, embezzlement and money laundering.

Torzi faces several charges, including extortion of $ 17 million from the Vatican in payment for majority stake and his role in negotiating the deal. Nicola Squillace, a Milan-based lawyer who helped negotiate the London property deal, has also been charged with fraud, embezzlement and money laundering.

Cecilia Marogna, an Italian political analyst who was allegedly hired as a consultant by Cardinal Becciu, has been charged with embezzling money through a humanitarian organization she headed in Slovenia. The organization Logsic Humanitarne Dejavnosti, DOO, was also included in the Vatican indictment.

Thelma J. Longworth

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