The 14th hearing of the London building trial, held on May 5, 2022, was the occasion to hear Cardinal Angelo Becciu for the second time. The high-ranking prelate had more than two hours to give his version of facts, insisting in particular on the place occupied by the key witness of the trial, Monsignor Alberto Perlasca, in the financial affairs of the Secretariat of State.
Now free of the pontifical secret – a rule of confidentiality concerning Church governance – Cardinal Becciu was able to give his complete version of events surrounding the case. Prior to this, the lawyer Alessandro Sanmarco had opportunely announced that he wished to act as a civil party to represent Monsignor Perlasca concerning two accusations.
The first accusation concerns the charge of bribery, brought against Cardinal Becciu, who allegedly asked the bishop of the diocese of Como (Italy) to put pressure on Monsignor Perlasca to withdraw his accusing statements against the cardinal. The second is the charge of fraud against Messrs. Tirabassi, Crasso, Torzi and Squillace, who allegedly induced Perlasca to sign an agreement to transfer ownership of the London building to Mr. Torzi under conditions unfavorable to the Holy See.
Several defense attorneys immediately voiced their opposition, citing, among other things, Perlasca’s unique position as a former suspect and the late timing of the civil suit. The president of the tribunal stated that he would decide shortly, allowing the lawyer to attend the hearing.
“Utmost trust” in Monsignor Perlasca
Cardinal Becciu gave a long spontaneous statement that lasted almost two and a half hours. He began by explaining that the Administrative Office, of which Perlasca had headed since 2009, was in charge of financial matters for the Secretariat of State, and that at the time of his appointment in 2011, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, then Secretary of State, had presented the office headed by Perlasca to him as a “competent and experienced office.” This reassured the Sardinian cardinal, who recalled his past as apostolic nuncio “in the four corners of the globe” and presented himself as “far from any economic and financial training.”
Cardinal Becciu also described the office as “almost the little kingdom of [Perlasca].” He said that as a substitute he met daily with the head of the Administrative Office who presented him with notes, reports, or documents on the main financial issues concerning the Secretariat of State, so that he could make a decision. The cardinal stressed, however, that since he is not an expert in financial matters, Monsignor Perlasca’s “mens” – a written note with his opinion on the matter – was of paramount importance in his decision-making process.
“During my service, I have never made a decision on financial investments that was not in line with what was proposed to me by Perlasca and his office,” he said. He stressed that “in the ecclesiastical world, trust is the main driving force behind every choice” and that in the seven years of working with the monsignor, the “maximum trust” he had in him had never been questioned.
Perlasca’s role in the acquisition of the London building
Cardinal Becciu explained that the Administrative Office, and therefore Monsignor Perlasca, presented the building at 60 Sloane Avenue – “the London building” – to him as a valuable investment. The Athena fund, managed by Raffaele Mincione, which handled assets of the Holy See, was the chosen vehicle for the purchase. Mincione made millions on the deal.
“I still wonder how I could have acted differently, in light of the information made available to me at the time, which […] left no room for interpretation,” the Sardinian prelate defended himself.
“If, in conscience, I must attribute a fault to Monsignor Perlasca today, it is that of not having made known to me crucial details known to him (and only to him) during my years at the Secretariat of State,” the cardinal said.
Cardinal Becciu denies any subornation of witnesses
Cardinal Becciu then said he found the accusation of subornation “particularly painful.” He is accused of having pushed the bishop of Como, Monsignor Oscar Cantoni, to pressure Monsignor Perlasca – as a priest incardinated in his diocese – to withdraw accusatory statements about himself.
He explained that he met with the Italian bishop because at the time, several Italian media outlets were reporting that Perlasca had made “false statements” about the cardinal and had even written letters to the pontiff to support his version of events.
“This prospect was for me – a cardinal who has sworn fidelity to the Pope – unspeakable. […] I would not tolerate falsehoods being told about me, and even less that the Holy Father be lied to,” explained Cardinal Becciu, adding that he did not want to “hurt” Perlasca, who was “going through a period of great despair, driven to the brink of suicide.”
The cardinal therefore thought of meeting with the bishop of Como to confide in him his “sorrow” at what was happening and to tell him that if Msgr. Perlasca was really saying what was reported in the media, the cardinal would be obliged “to protect [his] honesty, and therefore, in spite of [him], to denounce him for slander.” He said he hoped the bishop could help Monsignor Perlasca.
A suicide attempt by Perlasca
Cardinal Becciu confirmed that after leaving his position as substitute in 2018, he continued to be close to Monsignor Perlasca. As investigations into the London building cases began, the cardinal explained that Perlasca had fallen into “deep loneliness.”
The cardinal said he had long supported Perlasca, even when he was at his lowest ebb, to the point of knowing that he was considering suicide. The cardinal read a text message sent by the former office director in which he said: “If I threw myself out of my room, I would die in the chapel” – a reference to the central chapel of the residence of St. Martha, the pope’s residence, in which Monsignor Perlasca was then residing.
The cardinal then informed the Pope’s own secretary, Monsignor Yoannis Lahzi Gaïd, as well as the Commander of the Gendarmerie. He later found him “agitated and speaking incoherently” before a doctor administered a mild sedative. Later, he urged him not to commit suicide, saying that he would get “nothing” from such an action except that the newspapers “would not pass up the version that he had killed himself out of guilt.”
The cardinal then recalled a dinner the two men had two months later in the restaurant ‘Lo Scarpone’ on the Janiculum, during which Perlasca seemed “very strange and sensitive” and allegedly asked him questions “about [his] person and about [his] activities,” especially the “most confidential.” Becciu then raised the possibility of having been recorded without his knowledge during this discussion, speaking of treason. He said he had not seen him since.
Threats from a “disturbing” lady
The cardinal explained that he was approached “unexpectedly” by a “disturbing” person named Genoveffa Ciferri Putignani from May 2020. Introducing herself as a close friend of Perlasca, she allegedly asked him to help the newly fired former office manager, asking him, among other things, to intercede with the pope. Later, she called him back to question the “effectiveness” of his intervention in favor of his protégé.
Finally, the cardinal received this lady on July 10, 2020, in the evening. He remembers a “cold and insolent” person who reproached him again for his inaction, and then criticized the pope. Attempting to interrupt him, she then accused him of having tried to “eliminate” Monsignor Perlasca with the sedative administered during his “suicide attempt” and of having tried to remove him from the Vatican.
Cardinal Becciu claims to have protested but received these threats in response: “Remember: if you don’t do everything to restore honor and employment to Monsignor Perlasca, you will lose your cardinal’s biretta and his hat will be for you only an ignominious memory!” She then mentioned her proximity to English and Italian journalists capable of “destroying” him, stating that she was an ex-agent of the Italian secret service. Then changing tone, she proposed they go together to his villa.
The prelate allegedly made her leave, but then heard from her by messages. She continued to insist that he save Monsignor Perlasca, then threatened that he was going to need “lawyers.” She also called her brother to threaten him. Cardinal Becciu then blocked her number on his phone.
According to the research of Cardinal Becciu’s lawyers, Mrs. Putignani bequeathed real estate to Bishop Alberto Perlasca on the condition that he provide her with “moral and spiritual assistance” and that he celebrate or arrange for the celebration of Gregorian Masses for five years following her death.
More as this story develops.