VATICAN CITY (RNS) — Vatican prosecutors in the Catholic Church’s 2-year-old corruption trial asked Wednesday (July 26) that Cardinal Angelo Becciu be sentenced to seven years and three months in prison and pay 14 million euros in fines for embezzlement, abuse of office and witness tampering in connection with a real estate deal that lost almost $200 million.
In all, the Vatican’s head prosecutor, Alessandro Diddi, asked that the trial’s 10 defendants serve a cumulative 73 years and one month in prison.
None of the defendants has been found guilty by the Vatican tribunal, which will continue to hear closing arguments this week. The judges have until December to make a ruling on innocence or guilt and issue a sentence.
Becciu, who was stripped of his powers as a cardinal but not his title by Pope Francis in 2020, would be the first cardinal to be sentenced to prison by a Vatican tribunal.
Becciu has staunchly insisted on his innocence against all accusations through interviews, statements and in court. “Concerning the Prosecutor’s request, a single day in prison would not be a fair sentence,” said Becciu’s lawyers, Maria Concetta Marzo and Fabio Viglione, in a statement on Wednesday.
“The Cardinal has always been a loyal servant of the church and has suffered in silence, defending himself during the trial and actively taking part in the hearings. He subjected himself for several days to exhausting interrogations and has clarified every doubt by proving his absolute good faith and fairness,” the statement added.
Besides his participation in the real estate deal, Vatican prosecutors say Becciu gave 125,000 euros to a charitable company owned by his brother in their native Sardinia. Becciu is also charged with illicitly paying Cecilia Marogna, a diplomacy and national security consultant, more than half a million euros, which Marogna used to pay for expensive dinners, designer bags and holidays. Prosecutors have requested that Morogna serve a sentence of more than four years if convicted.
What has been called “the trial of a century” centers on a 2014 investment in a London apartment complex in which the Secretariat of State depended on Italian businessmen to broker their purchase of the building in exchange for large fees. When the deal was initially signed, Becciu was substitute at the secretariat, the third highest position at the Vatican.
Summarizing their investigation, prosecutors described the thicket of fees and commissions paid to the businessmen, Raffaele Mincione and Gianluigi Torzi, and drawn from Vatican accounts. “Piecing these financial operations together was not easy,” said Diddi, “but we did it.”
Prosecutors asked for prison terms of 11 years and five months for Mincione and seven years and six months for Torzi, along with hefty fines, if they are convicted of money laundering, corruption and fraud.
Monsignor Mauro Carlino, Becciu’s personal secretary, who is charged with extortion and abuse of office, risks a prison sentence of five years and four months. Fabrizio Tirabassi, the former Secretariat of State official who is alleged to have OK’d contracts giving Torzi control over the real estate, faces a massive fine totaling nearly 100 million euros if he is found guilty. He also risks being convicted to 13 years and 3 months in prison.
Prosecutors asked that Torzi’s lawyer, Nicola Squillace, receive a sentence of six years in prison and a fine of more than 1 million euros. Enrico Crasso, a longtime manager of Vatican funds, risks nine years and nine months in prison. Prosecutors charged both with money laundering and fraud for their role in the real estate deal.
The former president of the Vatican’s financial watchdog agency, René Bruelhart, and his No. 2, Tommaso Di Ruzza, were asked to pay 15 million euros each by prosecutors, who also asked for four years in prison for Di Ruzza and one month for Bruelhart for abuse of office.
The Vatican City State has a small prison, with only three cells, and it remains unclear whether the sentences would be carried out in the neighboring state of Italy if the judges rule in favor of the prosecution.