200 witnesses to testify in ‘Vatican trial of a century’ on financial scandals

A trial that began a year ago has so far heard from 10 witnesses.

The dome of St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City. Photo by Steen Jepsen/Pixabay/Creative Commons

VATICAN CITY (RNS) — Earlier this month, Giuseppe Pignatone, one of the judges overseeing the Vatican’s “trial of a century,” concerning corruption and money laundering by Catholic Church officials, joked that he hoped the proceedings would end by 2050.

At least, it was thought to be a joke: At Wednesday’s session, the judges announced that the prosecution and defendants plan to call more than 200 witnesses in a trial that has already taken nearly a year to get through 10 defendants. 

The trial started in July of 2021 with defendants facing interrogation by Vatican prosecutors, judges and the lawyers of other defendants.

At the heart of the case is the controversial purchase by the Vatican’s Secretariat of State of a property at 60 Sloane Ave. in London, which according to Vatican prosecutors cost the church 350 million euros (about $370 million), drawn in part from donations to a papal charity called Peter’s Pence.

So far the trial has put a spotlight on turf wars and rivalries among members of the Vatican departments and offices that make up the Roman Curia. The hearing on Wednesday (June 22) focused on the role played by the fund managers and consultants who oversaw the Vatican’s investment portfolio.

Enrico Crasso, a former employee of the bank Credit Suisse who served the Holy See as an investment manager for 26 years, answered questions for the second time at the trial on Wednesday, and declared his innocence. He is charged with embezzlement, corruption, extortion, money laundering, fraud, abuse of office and varying types of forgery.

“Eleven indictments are not few,” Crasso said. “I hope that this court wants to judge my activity as a manager and does not put me in a position to pay for the activities of other (defendants).”

In his previous hearing, May 30, Crasso had said he was sidelined by the Vatican in 2014 when it chose to invest in Raffaele Mincione’s fund, Athena, which owned the London property. Mincione is also charged with fraud and embezzlement for allegedly draining profits from the investment through fees and commissions.

Proceedings in the Vatican finance trial on May 20, 2022. Photo by Vatican Media

Proceedings in the Vatican finance trial on May 20, 2022. Photo by Vatican Media

Crasso questioned Mincione’s management of the fund, maintaining that the financier used the Vatican’s money to pay for his takeover of the troubled Italian bank Carige. Crasso said he told the secretariat that the costs of Mincione’s fund were excessively high.

Crasso said he broke with Mincione officially in 2016, more than two years after he first introduced him to Vatican staffers to pitch an investment in an oil operation in Angola, an idea that was scrapped in favor of the London property deal.

Crasso told the judges that his role was to act as a “bulwark in defending the Secretariat of State’s liquidity, and not a tool to fraud anyone.”

Crasso said he was present at some of the principal meetings that laid out the London property deal; he said he was “always summoned by Fabrizio Tirabassi,” who handled the finances of the Secretariat of State and is another defendant at the trial.

“I never had formal assignments” from the Secretariat of State, Crasso said.

RELATED: Vatican knew about risks of London deal, says financier who brokered it

The management of the London property was eventually handed over to another Italian fund manager, Gianluigi Torzi, who assured the Secretariat of State that he could convince Mincione to hand over the property. Crasso said he was called back into the deal by the secretariat to oversee the transition as a representative of Credit Suisse.

In November 2018, Torzi handed over the majority of the shares of the fund that owned the London property but kept 1,000 voting shares that kept control of the real estate in his hands. Vatican prosecutors have charged Torzi with embezzlement, fraud and money laundering, claiming he extorted $15 million from the secretariat to relinquish the voting shares.

Crasso acknowledged he was present during the signing of the deal in London but denied knowing anything about Torzi’s voting shares. Attending the meeting was “a very big mistake,” Crasso said, adding that a Secretariat of State official, Monsignor Alberto Perlasca, asked him to attend.

Initially investigated by Vatican prosecutors, Perlasca is now a star witness in the proceedings.

Vatican judges fixed the next trial date for July 7, when they will interrogate remaining defendants and begin the task of interrogating the numerous witnesses before the tribunal goes on its summer break.

RELATED: Pope Francis plans to remain pope ‘for as long as God allows it,’ bishops say

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