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A cardinal at the heart of a financial lawsuit: the Holy See announced on Saturday the dismissal before its criminal court of ten people, including the influential Angelo Becciu, involved in the case of opaque financing, via Italian businessmen , a luxury building in London.

This is a first at the Vatican. Cardinal Becciu, 73, who was a close collaborator of the pope, will appear with his co-defendants in the Holy See court from July 27.

He is being prosecuted for embezzlement, abuse of power and witness tampering in this case, the first elements of which began to appear in the Italian press in September 2020, when Pope Francis dismissed him from his functions.

In a statement released on Saturday by his entourage, the cardinal said he was “the victim of a conspiracy” and protested his “absolute innocence”. Claiming to have been nailed to the “media pillory”, he said he was in a hurry to explain himself.

Angelo Becciu was number two in the Secretariat of State, the Holy See’s central administration, when the process of buying the London building began in 2014.

– Luxury apartments in Chelsea –

Among the other defendants, the Swiss René Brülhart, former president of the Financial Information Authority (AIF), the financial gendarme of the Holy See, must answer for abuse of power.

Two clergymen will also be tried: Monsignor Mauro Carlino, longtime private secretary of Angelo Becciu, and Monsignor Enrico Crasso, former manager of the reserved assets of the Secretary of State, a manna of several hundred million euros largely from the “St. Peter’s Denier,” in other words, donations from individuals to the Vatican.

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The other defendants are Tommaso Di Ruzza, former director of the AIF, Cecilia Marogna, known as “The Lady of the Cardinal”, a young Italian consultant who had been entrusted with half a million euros by the Secretariat of State on an account in Slovenia, investor Raffaele Mincione, lawyer Nicola Squillace, Fabrizio Tirabassi, a former senior secular Vatican official, and Gianluigi Torzi, a broker arrested last May in London.

Through the voice of their lawyers, René Brülhart and Mauro Carlino argued on Saturday that they had always been “loyal” and worked “in the interest of the Holy See”.

The investment at the heart of the scandal is a building in the chic London district of Chelsea, on Sloane Avenue, 17,000 m2 transformed into some fifty luxury apartments. A first participation was taken in the project in 2014 via a Luxembourg fund managed by the holding company of Raffaele Mincione.

The opaque financial management, via Switzerland and Luxembourg, had prompted the Vatican four years later to put an end to it by buying the whole of the London building.

The price of the building was very overvalued, greedy intermediaries and considerable sums went up in smoke. With other hazardous investments, the damage to the Vatican would amount to several hundred million euros, according to the Italian press.

– Financial reform –

In November 2019, Pope Francis admitted to the press the existence of a corruption “scandal” within the Vatican. “We did things that were not clean,” regretted the Sovereign Pontiff.

The London building trial “is directly linked to the directives and reform of His Holiness Pope Francis in favor of transparency and consolidation of Vatican finances,” the Holy See said on Saturday.

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The Argentine Pope was elected in 2013 to bring order to Vatican finances, a difficult reform that has met with resistance within certain “dicasteries” (ministries) managing funds in a very autonomous and not very transparent manner.

In 2017, he noted that “reforming” the Roman Curia (Vatican government) amounted to “cleaning the Egyptian sphinx with a toothbrush”.

To this end, he created the all-powerful Secretariat for the Economy in 2014, cleaned up the once sulphurous Vatican bank, where 5,000 suspicious accounts were closed in 2015, supervised calls for tenders for his internal expenses, and entrusted to the Administration of the Patrimony of the Apostolic See (Apsa) the management of the budgets of the numerous Vatican administrations.

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