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Italian Cardinal Angelo Becciu was sentenced to 5 years and 6 months in prison by the Vatican tribunal on December 16, 2023, at the end of the Vatican’s financial trial. This is the first time a Vatican criminal court has sentenced a cardinal, and his lawyer immediately announced the intention to appeal. Nine total defendants were convicted, two of these were not given prison sentences, and one was acquitted.
After a two-and-a-half-year trial, the president of the Vatican tribunal, Giuseppe Pignatone, delivered his final verdicts shortly after 4 pm in the multi-purpose room of the Vatican Museums, which was converted into a courtroom and hosted the entire trial. Cardinal Becciu, who was not present at the final hearing, was number 3 at the Vatican secretariat of state, the substitute, from 2011 to 2018. He was sentenced to 5 years and 6 months in prison, fined 8,000 euros, and banned from ever holding public office.
Becciu was found guilty on three counts of embezzlement. He was absolved of five other charges, including witness tampering of Mgr Alberto Perlasca, former head of the section in charge of investments of the Secretariat of State. The tribunal did not present the motivations for the verdicts. They are expected to be released in the following months.
The cardinal’s charges
The court found the Sardinian cardinal guilty of embezzlement – of over 200 million dollars, or nearly 184 million euros – in the financial operation between 2013 and 2014 that led to the Secretariat of State’s funds being invested in a building in London at 60 Sloane Avenue. This investment was made through a hedge fund administered by British-Italian broker Raffaele Mincione, which had “highly speculative characteristics and which entailed a high risk on capital for the investor without any possibility of management control.”
On the other hand, the cardinal was found not guilty of the two other charges of embezzlement brought against him concerning the management of the London building between 2014 and 2018, as the court considered that he no longer had control over the funds. The prosecution claims that the Secretariat of State lost between 139 and 189 million euros (around 152 to 207 million dollars) throughout the entire so-called London building affair.
The cardinal was also found guilty of embezzlement – of 570,000 euros (around 628,00 dollars) – in connection with the hiring between 2018 and 2019 of intermediary Cecilia Marogna, for an operation to free a nun held hostage in Mali, Africa. The court considers that the money was not used for this purpose and Marogna was also found guilty of embezzlement.
Becciu was also found guilty of embezzlement – of 125,000 euros (around 136,000 dollars) – for sending Secretariat of State funds in 2015 and 2018 to a diocesan charity association run by his brother in Sardinia, Italy. The court recognized that the destination of the funds was licit, as money from the Holy See could be used to finance this type of association, but that it was nevertheless an “illegal use” of the funds due to his brother’s role in the organization.
Initially, the chief prosecutor, Alessandro Diddi, had requested 7 years and 3 months’ imprisonment for Cardinal Becciu. Reacting after the hearing, he said that he was “satisfied” that the “long, meticulous work” that his office had put into this trial has “held up” despite accusations that he and his team had been “incompetent.”
In statements to the press right after the hearing, the cardinal’s lawyers, Maria Concetta Marzo and Fabio Viglione, said that, although they respected the sentencing, they would certainly appeal. “We believe that the trial has demonstrated the cardinal’s absolute innocence, an innocence in which we believe,” said Viglione.
In a short interview with Italian TV program Cinque Minuti (Five Minutes), broadcast on December 18, 2023, Cardinal Angelo Becciu, said he wanted to “prove [his] innocence.”
“I want to shout to the world that I am innocent, that I absolutely did not do these crimes that I am being accused of,” he said in his first public appearance since the sentencing.