After two years, Vatican financial trial closes preliminary stage

Vatican prosecutors will lay out their indictment beginning in mid-July, when they will detail charges against the 10 defendants and their involvement in the investment that squandered millions in Vatican funds.

FILE - In this Sunday, Jan. 31, 2021 file photo, people are reflected on a puddle as they walk in St. Peter's Square, at the Vatican. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino, File)

VATICAN CITY (RNS) — The Vatican’s “trial of the century,” in which 10 defendants, including a cardinal, face charges of fraud and corruption in a shady real estate deal, has already seen a century’s worth of testimony alleging blackmail, scandalous liaisons and secretly taped conversations with Pope Francis. The trial itself, however, has only just begun.

On Tuesday (June 12), a hearing ended the preliminary stage of the trial, which has been going on since July of 2021. 

On July 18, Vatican prosecutors will take center stage at the trial’s next phase. The chief prosecutor, Alessandro Diddi, is expected to lay out the formal charges against the defendants and detail the tortuous maneuvering over the church’s investment in a luxury property in London’s swank Chelsea district that would eventually squander millions of euros in Vatican funds, including monies earmarked for the poor.

The defense is expected to begin no sooner than October, when the trial will step into its third year.

The London property at the heart of the Vatican financial scandal. Image via Google Maps

The London property at the heart of the Vatican financial scandal. Image via Google Maps

The scandal’s roots can be traced to 2019, when the Vatican Institute for Religious Works, or Vatican Bank, flagged a suspicious loan request by the Vatican Secretariat of State to obtain full ownership of the prime London real estate. The prosecutors now allege that Italian entrepreneurs colluded with Vatican officials at the secretariat to defraud the Catholic institution of more than 200 million euros.

The hearing on Tuesday focused on procedural issues, which have been a thorn in the side of the prosecutors. Defense lawyers have complained that the Vatican’s criminal law system, mostly inspired by a version of the Italian penal code dating to 1889, lacks the legal protections enshrined in modern law systems.

The legal teams defending Cardinal Angelo Becciu and Fabrizio Tirabassi, both former officials at the Secretariat of State, asked that more documentation be introduced into evidence, especially items related to the financial statements of the Vatican Bank and other financial institutions at the Vatican.

Lawyers for Raffaele Mincione, who sold the London property to the church and is charged with embezzlement and fraud among other crimes, also asked the judges to request more documents, asking that the official contracts signed by the Vatican and financial entities such as Credit Suisse be released to them.

Cardinal Angelo Becciu speaks during a news conference Sept. 25, 2020, in Vatican City. RNS photo by Claire Giangravé

Cardinal Angelo Becciu speaks during a news conference Sept. 25, 2020, in Vatican City. RNS photo by Claire Giangravé

The judges on Tuesday denied both requests, stating that there is sufficient documentation for the case to be adjudicated.

The lawyers for Tirabassi and Enrico Crasso, a longtime investment manager for the Holy See, asked that the testimony of Italian financier Gianluigi Torzi be excluded from the proceeding, as he is also among the defendants in the trial and therefore cannot be considered a witness.

Torzi acted as a broker in the deal that allowed the Secretariat of State to gain full ownership of the property. Vatican prosecutors accused Torzi of blackmail when he refused to relinquish the shares of the fund owning the real estate unless they paid him 15 million euros for his financial services.

Torzi is on the record accusing Crasso and Tirabassi of attempted blackmail and making death threats.

The two men’s lawyers prevailed, with the Vatican judges deciding on Tuesday that Torzi’s testimony against the other defendants in the case will not be considered in the trial.

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