EXPLANATION: Behind the Vatican real estate scandal in London
ROME (AP) – The Vatican has set a July 27 trial date for 10 people, including a once powerful cardinal and papal candidate, on charges related to the Holy See’s € 350 million investment in a luxury real estate company in London.
The 487-page indictment request closed a two-year investigation that revealed how the Vatican lost millions of euros – largely donations from worshipers – in brokerage fees, bad investments and other questionable expenses. Beyond that, prosecutors allege various charges against the defendants, including extortion, embezzlement, abuse of power and corruption.
Here’s the breakdown of the case, the charges, and some of the main players.
WHAT IS THE CASE?
The Vatican Secretary of State decided in 2013 to invest 200 million euros in a fund managed by Italian businessman Raffaele Mincione, half of the money going into the London building, half in other investments.
In 2018, Mincione’s fund Athena Capital had lost 18 million euros of the Vatican’s initial investment, prosecutors say, prompting the Vatican to seek an exit strategy while retaining its stake in the upscale building. from Chelsea to London.
Enter Gianluigi Torzi, another broker, who helped organize a payment of 40 million euros by the Vatican to Mincione for shares in the building that the Holy See did not already have.
But prosecutors say Torzi then deceived the Holy See: rather than set up a company to manage the Vatican-controlled building, Torzi inserted a clause in the contract giving him full voting rights in the deal, claim -they. Prosecutors say Torzi then extorted 15 million euros from the Vatican to take control of the building.
Torzi said the accusations were a misunderstanding.
WHO IN THE VATICAN KNEW?
Prosecutors admitted that Pope Francis was aware of the deal and even attended a meeting in December 2018 with Torzi. A witness said Francis agreed to pay Torzi “fair” compensation for handing over the building.
Other senior officials, including Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin and his deputy Archbishop Edgar Pena Parra were also aware and approved the deal with Torzi. Documents show that Pena Parra authorized one of her deputies to sign the contract with Torzi giving her full voting rights.
None of them have been charged. Prosecutors said they did not understand Torzi’s contract change, were not made aware of Torzi and Mincione’s dealings, their previous business relationships, as well as alleged commissions that others people involved in the deal had won.
WHO IS CARDINAL BECCIU AND HOW IS HE RELATED TO THIS TRIAL?
Cardinal Angelo Becciu is the only indicted cardinal and will be the first cardinal prosecuted by the court after Pope Francis changed Vatican law to allow lay people to try cardinals. Becciu has denied any wrongdoing.
Becciu was once one of the Vatican’s most powerful prelates and was reportedly a candidate to become a future pope before Francis last year sacked him from his post as head of the office of the saints in the Holy See.
Francis asked him to resign in September and stripped him of his rights and privileges as a cardinal, citing a donation of 100,000 euros that Becciu made with Vatican money to a diocesan charity run by his brother. At the time of the donation, Becciu was No. 3 in the Secretariat of State and had decision-making authority over the office’s vast portfolio of assets.
Becciu is linked to another accused in the case, Cecilia Marogna. She is accused of embezzling funds from the Holy See that Becciu authorized for her intelligence work, allegedly to free Catholic priests and nuns held hostage in hostile parts of the world. Prosecutors say she spent the money on luxuries instead.
Marogna has denied wrongdoing and says she can account for how the money was spent.
WHAT DOES A VATICAN CRIMINAL TRIAL LOOK LIKE?
The Criminal Code of the Vatican City State is based on the Italian Legal Code of 1889 as well as elements of canon law of the Universal Catholic Church. In recent years, the Pope has updated the code with a host of financial crimes specifically to address the types of misconduct alleged in Saturday’s indictment.
The Vatican court has come under pressure to prosecute financial crimes as part of the Holy See’s participation in the Council of Europe’s Moneyval process, which aims to help countries fight money laundering and financing terrorism.
The Vatican entered Moneyval’s valuation program over a decade ago in an attempt to shed its image as a shady offshore tax haven.
The Vatican has equipped a new courtroom for the next trial in part of the Vatican Museums, given that its usual criminal court will be too small for the defendants and their lawyers. If found guilty, defendants could face jail time, fines, or both.