Proceedings have begun in what observers call the largest criminal trial in modern times involving Vatican officials. Ten people, including a once powerful cardinal, are facing charges of corruption and fraud.
The trial is the result of a two-year investigation into a failed investment of more than 400 million dollars into the London property market
It is the first time such a high-ranking and powerful figure of the Catholic Church is standing trial in the Vatican for financial misconduct.
Seventy-three year-old Cardinal Giovanni Angelo Becciu, a close aide to Pope Francis, was chief of staff of the Vatican’s Secretariat of State when he was forced to resign last September so that he could be indicted.
Charges against Becciu include embezzlement and abuse of office related to the purchase of a property in the prestigious South Kensington area of London.
Becciu has always denied any wrongdoing, as have the other nine defendants, who include the former head of the Vatican’s Financial Unit, Swiss lawyer Rene Bruelhart, and two Italian investment bankers, Raffaele Mincione and Gianluigi Torzi.
The London real estate deal dates back to 2014 when the Secretariat of State invested initially around 240 million dollars, much of it from church donations, into a fund operated by Mincione. Half the sum was to secure 45% of the London luxury property and the remainder for other investments.
Soon it became apparent to the Vatican the investments would not only not be profitable, but that losses would be huge. Other individuals were brought in to salvage a situation that would only take a turn for the worse.
Since the start of his papacy in 2013, Pope Francis has been working to clean up financial mismanagement and nepotism inside the Vatican. In April, the pope reformed the Vatican criminal code, removing privileges for cardinals and bishops so that they too could be held accountable if accused of wrongdoing.
At the time, Francis explained that it was a priority to carry out the reform to ensure that all members of the church be judged equally, and their positions and dignity given the same value, without anyone receiving any special privileges.
Due to still existing COVID restrictions and the number of defendants, lawyers and journalists, the Holy See has decided to hold the trial in a makeshift courtroom in the Vatican museums.