Cardinal Peque was found guilty in the Vatican’s ‘Trial of the Century’

VATICAN CITY — Inside the high walls of the Holy See, Cardinal Giovanni Angelo Pequio, former head of the Office of “Miracles” that made saints, is considered. papaphile, A potential next pope.

His career then collided with church prosecutors, who charged the 75-year-old Italian and nine officials with corruption, setting up the Vatican’s investigation of the century.

On Saturday, Bechiu – the first cardinal tried by the Vatican’s little-known criminal court – was found guilty of multiple abuses after a trial marred by accusations of witness tampering and papal interference. Pesiu was sentenced to five years and six months in prison in a verdict read out in the converted quarter of the museum, which houses the Sistine Chapel.

Becciu’s lawyers said the decision would be appealed, but it put the cardinal closer to one of the Vatican City’s prison cells — a sign of accountability and embarrassment for an institution that has long struggled to root out corruption. He was also barred from holding Vatican office.

The case, a marathon of 86 courtroom hearings, involved a flurry of different allegations and further exposed the murky world of Vatican finances, as well as the pope’s crusade for accountability, critics argued. The star defendant has always been Becciu, a papal hopeful who renounced his senior post after a surprise 2020 meeting in which Pope Francis dramatically confronted the allegations against him. Before any offense could be found, Francis stripped him of his cardinal privileges. Later, some of those rights were unofficially restored.

Meanwhile, the Vatican is badly exposed for wear, raising new questions about the effectiveness and legitimacy of its legal system. Portrayed as an exercise in transparency under a crusading pope, the case nevertheless backfired in key ways, opening an unwanted window into the intrigue, infighting and incompetence at the heart of the world’s smallest sovereign state.

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Giovanni Maria Vien, former editor of the Vatican newspaper, said: “The Pope ended up kicking a hornet’s nest.

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A botched Vatican investment in a tony London property that ultimately led to huge losses prompted an extensive investigation, including unprecedented raids on Vatican offices. When prosecutors dug in, they said Begue had made a $125,000 payment in error. euros and another 575,000 euros to a Sardinian charity run by her brother, Cecilia Marogna, a Sardinian woman from a humanitarian organization in Slovenia believed to be helping to free a kidnapped nun. Other senior Vatican officials who signed the Treaty of London were never charged, and the Pope was previously informed of the transaction.

Before the trial began, Francis’ supporters viewed his powers as a quest for transparency, but critics said they were overreaching by someone serving as the absolute monarch of Vatican City. He also approved secrecy orders aimed at empowering prosecutors, including allowing investigators to engage in wiretapping.

As the lawyers tried to prove their case, They were hit by backlash, including questions about the credibility of their star witness and revelations that he had been coached by a Pique enemy. .

The pope, who was elected with a mandate to reform the Roman Curia — the opaque bureaucracy that runs Vatican City — was considered to have made sufficient strides to improve financial transparency. The Vatican bank — long tainted by secret accounting and money-laundering scandals — has undergone a purge in the past decade, a process that began under Pope Benedict XVI and accelerated under Francis.

Francis has also banned gifts worth more than $50 to Vatican employees and forced Holy See officials to sign a pledge saying they have no assets in tax havens.

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The Becciu case “says a lot about the pope’s willingness – dramatic and spectacular – to clean house,” said Italian journalist and Vatican watchdog Emiliano Fittipaldi. He added, “Becciu became a kind of symbol, or scapegoat, of an organization that had to be finally dealt with, even though he had committed no crime.”

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Prosecutor Alessandro Titti asked the defendants for prison terms of between four and 13 years and for restitution of almost 500 million euros. Becciu maintained his “absolute innocence” and argued that he had not stolen “a single euro”. During the case, Bequeau suggested that the pope had turned on him, even as he was forced to deny reports that he had funded an international smear campaign against one of Francis’ fiercest conservative critics.

Some observers wondered why the Vatican tried to prosecute the complex case, which ran from Britain to Slovenia to Italy, in the first place, instead of handing it over to the better-equipped Italian authorities.

After Francis became pope, Piqueu, who previously served in the Vatican’s Secretariat of State — the de facto head of its diplomatic arm — traveled with him frequently and was seen as one of the few men inside the Holy See who could tap freely. Pope’s door.

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During his tenure, the Secretariat invested in a luxury building on London’s fashionable Sloane Avenue through Italian financier Raffaele Mincione. The property once served as warehouses for Harrods department store. Along with the upgrades, the Vatican must create a mint.

Instead, the property was overvalued. It was Sold last year A loss of $175 million. But before that, the Secretariat’s efforts to refinance the debt through the Vatican bank raised alarm bells that got back to the Pope and triggered a wider investigation.

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On the stand, Becciu denounced his transformation from pious priest to “monster.” Behind the scenes, he began to prove his innocence. In 2021, before the trial began, he wrote a series of letters to Francis, urging the pope to confirm what he knew about the London Treaty, and to support it.

Besiu also asked Francis to admit that he already knew about the deal with Marogna, a woman from a charity in Slovenia. Pesiu said he hoped the money would help secure the release of Sister Gloria Cecilia Narvaez, a Colombian nun who was kidnapped in Mali in 2017.

In a call to Francis the day after the pope was released from a Rome hospital for colon surgery, Peque secretly recorded the pontiff appearing sympathetic to his plight. But a letter to the pope seeking written support against the accusation resulted in a legally frosty letter in which Francis expressed his “surprise” at Bexieu’s request and said he could not help him.

“I regret to inform you that I cannot comply with your request,” the Pope wrote.

Prosecutors’ case was based in part on the testimony of Monsignor Alberto Perlasca, a Vatican official who signed the contracts on the London property in 2018. Initially a target of the investigation, he changed his testimony and became a witness for the prosecution against Pesiu. . Former Vatican diplomat Francesca Sougi – who was jailed for 10 months in connection with the Vatileaks scandal, believed to have helped prompt the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI – later testified that she tried to influence Berlaska by accusing him of playing a role in Bechiu’s downfall.

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