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Relics, spies, and hostages: an astonishing testimony at the London building trial

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Cecilia marogna

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I.Media for Aleteia - published on 05/20/22

The explosive testimony of Cecilia Marogna at the 15th hearing of the London building trial reveals new dimensions of international intrigue as the Vatican pursues justice.

At the end of the 15th hearing of the London building trial – May 19, 2022 – during which the interrogation of Cardinal Angelo Becciu concluded, Cecilia Marogna’s lawyer asked to read a note from her client, which was refused by Judge Giuseppe Pignatone. The 22-page testimony of the woman who presents herself as an “expert in informal diplomacy” was, however, formally filed and transmitted to the press.

CeciliaMarognais the only woman among the accused; curiously, her indictment is not directly related to the London building case. From 2018 to 2019, she received, according to the Vatican Promoter of Justice, nearly 600,000 euros from the Secretariat of State to conduct intelligence activities, at the recommendation of Cardinal Becciu. The sums allocated for missions supposed to allow the liberation of hostages in the Sahel were “used, in almost all cases, to make purchases that are not compatible and therefore not justifiable” with the purpose of her mission, according to the Promoter of Justice. She is accused of embezzlement via a company based in Slovenia.

Given the explosive nature of her testimony, I.MEDIA wished to give her words a thorough presentation. But it is advisable, while waiting for her interrogation and the continuation of the trial, to take this information with caution.

Russian relics

After the historic meeting of Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill in Cuba on February 12, 2016, it was decided, to mark the rapprochement between their two churches, to tour the relics of St. Nicholas of Myra in Russia. Kept for nearly a millennium in Bari, Puglia, the remains of the saint, venerated by both Catholics and Orthodox, were exhibited in Moscow and then in St. Petersburg from May 21 to July 28, 2017 before returning to Italy.

Cecilia Marogna claims to have been contacted a few weeks later, in October 2017, by an Italian entrepreneur named Piergiorgio Bassi who put her in contact with two “Russian partners.” These individuals, whom she identifies as Goloschchapov Konstantin Veniaminovich and Lukjanov Vladimir Nikolayevich, were presented to her as Vladimir Putin’s “delegates for special diplomatic matters.”

They wanted, explains the Italian, to meet with Archbishop Becciu, then Substitute for General Affairs – “number 3” in the Vatican – and also wanted information about a trust called “Imperial” that was registered by the Russians “many years ago” at the IOR, the private bank of the Vatican. The IOR reportedly denied the existence of such a trust.

Furthermore, one of the purposes of the officials was to “receive as a gift” the relics of St. Nicholas of Bari, the same relics that had just returned to Italy a few weeks earlier. The two Russians and the intermediary met with Bishop Becciu and Cecilia Marogna and asked them to make the relics a “gift to the Russian President.”

The Sardinian prelate, although not convinced, presented the delicate request directly to the Pope, who explained to him that the only person who could decide on this point was Monsignor Francesco Cacucci, at that time Archbishop of the Apulian capital. Archbishop Becciu sent the request to Cacucci, who unambiguously ruled out the possibility of “dismembering the remains of the saint.”

The refusal upset the intermediary, Piergiorgio Bassi, who became enraged. He considered it impossible that the Pope “did not understand the importance of this gesture which would have later united the two Churches,” and described the behavior of Archbishop Cacucci as “rude and authoritarian.” It was then suggested to the Russian envoys that an official request be sent directly by Patriarch Kirill via the Secretariat of State. The request never arrived.

But that’s not all: the Italian intermediary also asked if it was possible to obtain a property “in one of the extraterritorial zones of the Holy See in Italy” to install a “Russian listening center.” She deemed this an “inappropriate if not absurd” request that she nevertheless transmitted to Archbishop Becciu, who made the same judgment. It was refused for reasons of “security” and “international diplomatic civility.”

Skype and Carles Puigdemont

At the same time, the referendum for the independence of Catalonia ends, after a disputed vote, with a score very favorable to the separatists. Cecilia Marogna received from the same intermediary, Piergiorgio Bassi, a request to organize, at the request of his Russian clients, a meeting or a call between Bishop Becciu and the pro-independence leader Carles Puigdemont, who was engaged in a struggle with Madrid.

The Sardinian prelate accepted the request “to know what is happening in Spain and to learn if there might be a reason to plan a diplomatic intervention by the Vatican. A video conference was being considered, as the Catalan could not travel at that time. However, Piergiorgio Bassi presented as a “conditio sine qua non” that the call would take place in the private apartment of Bishop Becciu with a “specific Skype account” set up by a contact of the intermediary.

Cecilia Marogna considered the request “unusual and, to say the least, illogical”, but the intermediary insisted. Given the “political urgency of the Spanish situation,” she suggested to Archbishop Becciu to demand an official request from the self-proclaimed president Carles Puigdemont to the Secretariat of State in order to avoid “instrumentalization” or even a “diplomatic incident.”

This response was presented to the intermediary. Once again irritated, Piergiorgio Bassi called Bishop Becciu a man “without character.” A few months later, Cecilia Marogna claims that the same Piergiorgio Bassi contacted her one last time to tell her that he had managed to get into “direct contact” with the Secretary of State of the Holy See, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, on this issue, without her being able to find out if this was the case

The release of Sister Gloria Cecilia Narvaez

Cecilia Marogna claims to have come into contact with the Inkerman company – “a company founded and run by ex-British military intelligence officers” that is reportedly “still linked” to MI5 and MI6 – in December 2017. These initial contacts allegedly led to a meeting in January 2018 at a summit organized by an “exclusive” club for people connected to the British intelligence community. She supports Cardinal Becciu’s version that she introduced him to the agency to handle the “delicate” issue of the release of Sister Gloria Cecilia Narvaez, a Colombian nun kidnapped by jihadists in the Sahel.

During the first meeting, the British agency communicated the price of the ransom demanded by the kidnappers for her release – 17 million euros. For his services, Inkerman asked to be paid and explained to the substitute that the liberation of the nun without paying the ransom would require “investments of human and logistical resources” that were more expensive than other cases, given the profile of the hostage and the context of the time in the Sahel.

Archbishop Becciu then reported the meeting to Pope Francis who gave him “full latitude to act” in order to “find a peaceful solution” to release the captive nun. With this agreement, Cecilia Marogna began to enter into contact, via Inkerman and then in a more autonomous way, with those in charge of the “GAULA”, the special forces of the Colombian secret services, specialized in anti-terrorism – notably against the Farcs. A meeting was reportedly held in Bogotà between the GAULA, Inkerman and the Apostolic Nuncio to Colombia Archbishop Ettore Balestrero – appointed in July 2018 as nuncio to the Democratic Republic of Congo – followed by a meeting with the nun’s family.

Bishop Becciu and Cecilia Marogna reportedly had two meetings in Rome in March and July 2018 with Inkerman. During the second meeting, the Enlgishman reportedly encouraged the formation of a “society abroad” to “shield” their organization’s involvement and that of the Vatican.

The Inkerman agency also reportedly received a “considerably higher” sum from the Holy See than was expected for their services. £350,000 was paid instead of £170,000.

According to Marogna, this was an error on the part of Monsignor Alberto Perlasca. The overpayment was not returned by Inkerman and it was agreed that it would be used to finance the continuation of its action while Cecilia Marogna would take care of the creation of the company abroad. In all, the English company received 589,000 euros from the Vatican. Cecilia Marogna wonders why, unlike the sums she received, these are not “taken into consideration” by the Promoter of Justice in his investigation.

The initiative of the Vatican Gendarmerie on the Narvaez case

Meanwhile, in February 2018, the Moroccan services warned Cecilia Marogna of an initiative taken by Domenico Giani – commander of the Vatican Gendarmerie – to pay a ransom to free the nun. She informed Archbishop Becciu who, “given the seriousness of the initiative,” spoke to the pontiff. The latter then received the head of the Vatican Gendarmerie, asking him to put an end to his operation “of high risk for the Vatican and all its religious and lay collaborators present in areas of high terrorist risk.”

Without any link that could be made with the Malian case, Commander Giani was thanked by the Pope in 2019 for leaking information about five people suspended by the Holy See in an investigation by the Promoter of Justice. In a statement issued on October 1, 2019, the Holy See had stressed that the head of the Gendarmerie had “no objective responsibility” for the leak but that it was to ensure “the serenity necessary for the continuation of the investigation coordinated by the Promoter of Justice.” He was even decorated by the Holy See on October 31 of the same year in appreciation for his work.

A shell company to free the nun

In order to create the shell company requested by Inkerman, it was suggested to Cecilia Marogna that it be set up in Slovenia because of its “thinner bureaucracy” and the possibilities offered by the status of companies in that country, an option that was approved by Bishop Becciu. This is how LOGSIC D.O.O. was founded, the Slovenian company accused in this trial, as a legal entity, of embezzlement.

The company was used to manage the case of the abducted nun but also other “highly critical, sensitive, discreet” cases in North Africa and the Sahel, for which Cecilia Marogna was hired since October 2017 by General Luciano Carta, director of the AISE – the Italian secret services.

She claims to have acted, at the request of Archbishop Becciu and General Carta as an “operational bridge” to enable the establishment of a “parallel diplomatic partnership” between the Holy See and the Italian secret services. This cooperation managed by LOGSIC, it states, was aimed at “reaping common benefits while always respecting the ethics and morals” of its two clients. The company received 575,000 euros from the Vatican between December 2018 and mid-2019, according to Cecilia Marogna. She insists that she did not sign any contract stipulating how she was to use the allocated funds and that she acted “according to a specific order given by Pope Francis.”

Episcopal crisis management in Sardinia

Cecilia Marogna claims to have also worked in 2017, as part of her collaboration with Archbishop Becciu, on a case involving Archbishop Arrigo Miglio, Archbishop Emeritus of Cagliari since 2019. The Sardinian archbishop was faced with a “critical” situation with another bishop, a situation which demanded that she find a “discreet solution.”

Archbishop Miglio asked Cecilia Marogna for help later on about another matter. This matter concerned “some social investments” for which the new bishop of the archdiocese of Sassari – Msgr. Gian Franco Saba – was not cooperative, despite the intervention of Cardinal Becciu. The risk, she asserts, was that a social real estate project would be converted into a “speculative project”. The cardinal “made Cecilia Marogna available” to solve the problem, even though it was not directly related to her diplomatic and foreign intelligence skills.

A compromising file on Bishop Peña Parra

Cecilia Marogna claims to have met with Cardinal Pietro Parolin – Secretary of State and direct superior of Cardinal Becciu when he was substitute – “several times” until October 2020. These meetings, she says, were related to “particularly critical situations that endangered the reputation of the Holy See and of some prelates who worked in the Curia.”

These meetings could be a “key to understanding” her arrest and the “vicissitudes” that affect her today, she says. In particular, she notes a meeting with Cardinal Parolin that occurred in September 2018, during which she allegedly passed on information she had received that “shed light on lay figures and ambiguous situations that could have compromised the reputation of the Holy See,” including a “voluminous file” received from abroad on the one destined to become Cardinal Becciu’s successor, the current Substitute, Bishop Edgar Peña Parra.

The file contained “photos and statements about the alleged immoral conduct of the prelate” that she wanted to have verified for “intellectual honesty.” She spoke with the Secretary of State, who “showed curiosity” and asked for a “hard copy” of the file, which she sent, wanting to make sure that it was not a “false file made to the detriment of the prelate.”

She notes that only ten days after this meeting, on October 12, 2018, the weekly L’Espresso came out with an investigation into this famous file – the article strongly denouncing the “poisons” aimed at Bishop Peña Parra. The “same weekly”, she points out, published the “defamatory campaign” aimed at Cardinal Becciu in September 2020 – the day after his resignation – acting against her and him thereafter as a “media assassin.”

Competition within the Italian secret services

Cecilia Marogna claims to have continued her work to free certain hostages despite many difficulties – notably the pandemic crisis. In her report, she cites the names of other hostages in the Sahel, Father Macalli and Nicola Chiaccio, as well as the French-Swiss humanitarian Sophie Pétronin – the latter being locked up with Sister Narvaez at the time – of whom she claims to have obtained videos constituting “exclusive proof of life” in July 2020. From that moment on, she claims to have been subjected to “several attempts of harassment” mentioning in particular the Italian secret services.

She asserts that a Nigerian agent presenting himself as a referent of General Caravelli – deputy director of the AISE until 2020 when he became director in place of General Carta – let Sahel know that he was ready to pay a ransom for those who appeared alive on the videos. She reported the information urgently to Cardinal Becciu, who informed Pope Francis, and the operation was “quickly blocked”, since the Vatican still did not want to pay a ransom to avoid other kidnappings.

She also explains that she turned to Cardinal Becciu and asked him to call security officials in Mali and Burkina Faso. They wanted to meet with the pope after they had succeeded in freeing the hostages. However, the “instability” of the cardinal’s line made her think that he had been the victim of “interference from the Vatican’s security and intelligence system”.

Cecilia Marogna explains that the appointment of General Carta as head of the Italian arms company Leonardo and his replacement by General Caravelli undermined his efforts to allow a Vatican-Italian release of three hostages at the same time, the two Italians and the Colombian nun. Having to “confront” the newcomer, she was warned by Cardinal Becciu of the possible rivalry between General Caravelli – who would be linked to Pierluigi Bassi, the intermediary of the Russians – on the one hand, and his predecessor General Carta, supported by an “Italian parliament member.” Cecilia Marogna insists that the relationship of trust between Cardinal Becciu, General Carta and herself is not linked to their common Sardinian origins.

Thanks to Cardinal Becciu’s help, she finally managed to reach General Caravelli, who told her that they had “very different” ways of working and that he did not wish to continue their collaboration, which she interpreted as a consequence of her proximity to General Carta. Cardinal Becciu then invited the recalcitrant general to his home, with the authorization and even the presence of the pope, but the general did not respond to the invitation.

To continue her missions, Cecilia Marogna explains that she then turned to two other people close to the Italian secret services, the ex-agent Marco Mancini and the former member of the criminal section of the Carabinieri of Milan, Giuliano Tavaroli. The latter acted in a very strange way, which she interprets a posteriori as a diversion so that she would not take care of the hostages. Her “illegal” arrest on October 13, 2020 by the Guardia di Finanza in Milan after the filing of an arrest warrant from the Vatican to Interpol led to her internment in the prison of San Vittore until the 30th of the same month, during which time she claimed to have no further information on the progress of the negotiations on the release.

Francesca Chaouqui’s Facebook messages

Between 2017 and 2020, Cardinal Becciu allegedly asked Cecilia Marogna to “monitor” his Facebook account, which he used very infrequently, because Francesca Immacolata Chaouqui, a former employee of the Holy See convicted for her involvement in Vatileaks, was sending him messages on that account. Given their nature, which Cecilia Marogna describes as “insistent, threatening and peremptory”, the cardinal asked her to record them to keep track.

Cecilia Marogna explains that the messages received by the cardinal on September 29 referred to the cardinal’s brothers and to herself as “Cecilia Zulema,” a nickname she says she found in several press articles “of an equally defamatory and false nature” published on October 5, 2020. She points out that this name is used in several interrogations by Msgr. Perlasca, who claims to know her by this name.

She also believes that the “protector” of Archbishop Perlasca, Genevieve Ciferri Putignani, cited by Cardinal Becciu in his testimony, could have installed an “electronic device” in the apartment of Cardinal Becciu to spy on him and transmit information to Francesca Chaouqui, who used them in interviews with the press.

DGSE and the murder of a humanitarian in Colombia

Cecilia Marogna affirms, however to have continued to work with the Colombian secret services, which themselves collaborated with the French secret services – the DGSE – to free the French-Swiss hostage Sophie Pétronin and the Colombian nun together. A collaboration which, she explains, would be linked to the lack of experience of the Colombian forces in the Sahel and to a proximity between their services since the case of the kidnapping of Ingrid Betancourt by the FARC between 2002 and 2008.

She made the link between the obstacles she had to face and the death of Mario Paciolla, an Italian journalist working for the United Nations who was killed on July 15, 2020 in Colombia in conditions that are not yet clear. She considers that these obstacles could be the result of the action of a person “probably of Italian extraction” who learned of the existence of this French-Colombian link. She believes this link could have gone against the interests of Italian services or created jealousy.

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