The charges were brought up against the 10 individuals on July 3. In a statement, the Holy See – the administrative entity that governs the entirety of the Catholic Church, including the Vatican – named one of the 10 charged individuals as Cardinal Giovanni Angelo Becciu.
Becciu was once the second most powerful man in the Secretariat of State, an office within the administrative bureaucracy of the Catholic Church.
The charges against Becciu include “embezzlement and abuse of office, also in collaboration, as well as subornation.” The main charge against him alleges that he funneled money and contracts to companies and charitable organizations controlled by his brothers.
Becciu’s former secretary was also charged with extortion. In addition, an Italian woman who worked for Becciu was charged with embezzlement for pocketing 575,000 euros she received to fund the ransom of kidnapped priests, nuns and lay missionaries in Africa.
Meanwhile, two Italian brokers who worked with Becciu were charged with embezzlement, fraud and money laundering. One of the brokers, Gianluigi Torzi, was given an additional extortion charge.
Two former high-level executives within the Vatican’s Financial Information Authority (AIF) were also charged. Former AIF President Rene Bruelhart and former Director Tommaso Di Ruzza were charged with abuse of office for allegedly failing to adequately protect the Vatican’s financial interests. The two were also charged with giving an “undue advantage” to the Italian brokers who worked with Becciu.
Di Ruzza is also being accused of embezzlement related to the alleged inappropriate use of his official credit card and for divulging confidential information.
In its press release, the Holy See’s also said it was indicting four companies that had dealings with the individual defendants – one company based in Slovenia, another in the United States and two in Switzerland.
The order to indict the 10 individuals and the four corporations was personally approved by Pope Francis. Since his ascension to the papacy in 2013, Pope Francis has campaigned to “cure the rot” in Vatican finances at any cost, even if the cost involves messy public trials.
Cardinal used church donations to purchase building in London
The Vatican made its investigation of Becciu’s alleged crimes public in 2019.
According to the Vatican, the Secretariat of State purchased about 45 percent of a residential and commercial building in London’s upscale Chelsea neighborhood in 2014 for 200 million euros (at the time equivalent to around $242 million).
Most of the money used for this purchase allegedly came from contributions given by Catholics during mass. Vatican media reported that the Secretariat of State sank an additional 150 million euros into the building. (Related: Vatican caught up in money laundering scheme involving hospitals and charities.)
Cardinal George Pell, former head of the Secretariat for the Economy, said that the Vatican suffered “enormous losses” that year due to the illicit purchase.
Pope Francis asked Becciu to resign from his post in the Secretariat of State in 2020 over the allegations of embezzlement and nepotism. Since the allegations against him were made public in 2019, he has maintained his innocence.
In a statement issued to journalists on the day the charges against him were revealed, Becciu said he was the victim of “a machination wrought against me.”
Father Mauro Carlino, Becciu’s former secretary charged with extortion, said he was innocent. According to his lawyer, Carlino was “acting under orders” and had actually saved the Vatican millions of euros.
Cecilia Marogna, the woman charged with allegedly pocketing money to ransom kidnapped missionaries, also argued her innocence. She said the money was used exactly for its intended purpose. The Vatican’s indictment said the money was used for her “personal benefit,” including the purchasing of luxury goods.
In a text message to mainstream media outlet Reuters, Bruelhart said he had “always carried out my functions and duties with correctness,” and that “the truth about my innocence will emerge.”
The trial is expected to begin on Tuesday, July 27. The 10 defendants have been called to appear in a makeshift courtroom fashioned out of one of the rooms of the Vatican Museums.
Learn more about high-profile cases of corruption around the world at Corruption.news.