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VATICAN CITY, July 7, 2021 (LifeSiteNews) – Cardinal Giovanni Angelo Becciu was indicted Saturday by Guiseppe Pignatone, president of the Vatican Tribunal, on charges of embezzlement and abusing his office, a statement from the Holy See Press Office confirmed.
Becciu will stand trial alongside nine other people connected to the financial scandal surrounding a property investment in London authorized by Becciu, the former Secretariat of State, as well as trying four private companies on related fraud and embezzlement charges.
Becciu’s former secretary, Monsignor Mauro Carlino, is among those to be tried for extortion and abuse of office, and eight laymen (six men and two women) face charges ranging from fraud and money laundering to forgery and corruption.
In 2014, Becciu bought a stake in 60 Sloane Avenue, a luxury London real estate development, using charitable funds from the Vatican as collateral for loans of 200 million euros (around $239 million US) that were funneled through a fund operated by Raffaele Mincione, one of those summoned on charges of “fraud, abuse of office, embezzlement and self-laundering.”
Mincione, whose Athena Capital company purchased 60 Sloane Avenue in 2012 for £129 million, originally sold a minority stake in the property to the Vatican through an investment fund that Mincione managed on behalf of the Vatican, securing a line of credit with Banca Svizzera Italiana, a Swiss bank embroiled in money laundering allegations. In 2018, the Vatican finalized its buyout of the property, with Mincione netting around £128 million in the process.
Becciu, as second in command at the Secretariat of State, authorized the transactions, allegedly keeping them off official Vatican ledgers in order not to draw the attention Cardinal George Pell, then-Prefect of the Secretariat for the Economy.
Becciu was made sostituto of the Secretariat of State in 2011, serving in the powerful deputy position until 2018, when Pope Francis elevated the then-archbishop to the cardinalate, shortly afterward appointing him to head the Congregation for the Causes of Saints.
After the revelation of Becciu’s involvement in the high-end London property investment, allegations against the cardinal for approving financial donations to a charity operated by his own brother, Tonino Becciu, came to light. A total of €700,000 in non-repayable loans (more than $820,000 US) were sent to his brother’s cooperative “Spes” from funds overseen by the Secretariat of State, €100,000 of which came from the Pope’s personal charity, Peter’s Pence.
A lengthy report published by Vatican News details how significant sums of that money were “diverted and used for non-charitable purposes,” according to Vatican magistrates, including “a loan to the Cardinal’s niece to acquire property in Rome.”
In the midst of a Vatican investigation into the misappropriation of finances, the Pope accepted Becciu’s resignation in late 2020, at which point the disgraced prelate gave up his privileges as a cardinal and rescinded his post as Prefect for the Congregation for the Causes of Saints.
Fabrizio Tirabassi, a layman who oversaw Vatican investments within the Secretariat of State, including some $710 million held by the Vatican in Swiss bank UBS, according to Catholic News Agency, was responsible for organizing the 2014 transfer of $200 million to Mincione for the London property. Tirabassi has been summoned on charges of “corruption, extortion, embezzlement, fraud and abuse of office.”
Representing the Secretariat of State in the later buyout of the property was businessman Gianluigi Torzi, who acted as a commissioned broker for the final deal and has been accused of defrauding the Vatican of millions of euros as part of that deal, in which the property had reportedly more than doubled in value from its 2012 price tag of £129 million to £300 million in 2018. Torzi will face trial for “extortion, fraud, embezzlement, money laundering and self-laundering,” according to the Holy See Press Office.
Tirabassi was hired as a director by Gutt SA, a Luxembourg-based holding company operated by Torzi, in November 2018 while still a member of the Secretariat of State and at the same time Torzi was assisting the Vatican’s final purchase of 60 Sloane Avenue. Gutt SA was used as the transfer vehicle for changing ownership of the building from Mincione to the Vatican. Tirabassi was later removed from the directorship on December 27, shortly before the transfer was completed.
Becciu has vehemently denied all charges against him as “machinations,” stating July 3 in response to his summons that “the moment for clarification” regarding his involvement in financial corruption will be found during the trial. He added that court proceedings will prove “the absolute falsity of the accusations against me and the dark plots that evidently supported and fed them.”
Becciu’s former secretary, Monsignor Carlino, also responded to being charged with criminal involvement in the London property scandal. Carlino’s lawyers issued a statement July 3 indicating a “groundlessness” to the charges against their client.
Trials are set to commence July 27.