A Vatican court on Saturday sentenced a once powerful Italian cardinal to five years and six months in jail for financial crimes at the end of a historic trial.
Angelo Becciu, 75, a former adviser to Pope Francis who was once considered a papal contender himself, is the most senior clergyman in the Catholic church to face a Vatican criminal court.
He and nine other defendants, including financiers, lawyers and ex-Vatican employees, were on trial for accusations of financial crimes focused on an opaque London property deal.
Becciu is accused of embezzlement, abuse of office and witness tampering. His lawyer, Fabio Viglione, said they respected the sentence but would “certainly” appeal. He was also handed a fine of 8,000 euros.
At the heart of the trial is the €350m euro purchase of a luxury property in London, as part of an investment that began in 2014 and ended up costing the Vatican tens of millions of euros.
The trial, which began in July 2021, has shone a light on the Holy See’s murky finances, which Pope Francis has sought to clean up since taking the helm of the Catholic church in March 2013.
It is also a test of his reforms. Just weeks before the trial, Francis gave the Vatican’s civilian courts the power to try cardinals and bishops, where previously they were judged by a court presided over by cardinals.
Becciu had always strongly protested his innocence, denouncing the accusations against him as “totally unfounded” and insisting he never took a cent.
Becciu, a globe-trotting former Vatican diplomat, has been a near-constant presence in the courtroom. He was number two in the Secretariat of State, the Vatican department that works most closely with the pope, from 2011 to 2018. He was moved to lead the department that deals with the creation of saints, before abruptly resigning in September 2020, after being informed of an investigation against him.
When the trial opened, prosecutors painted a picture of risky investments with little or no oversight and double-dealing by outside consultants and insiders. Among the defendants are two brokers involved in the London deal, Gianluigi Torzi and Raffaele Mincione, as well as Enrico Crasso, a former Vatican investment manager, and former Vatican employee Fabrizio Tirabassi.
Becciu is also accused over payments made to Cecilia Marogna – a woman from his native Sardinia, who is also on trial – which he claims were to help negotiate the release of a Colombian nun kidnapped in Mali.