Cardinal Angelo Becciu, former aide to Pope Francis, charged with multi-million embezzlement & fraud

A prominent Italian cardinal was among 10 people sent to trial in the Vatican on Saturday charged with financial crimes including embezzlement, money laundering, fraud, extortion and abuse of office, Reuters reports.

Cardinal Angelo Becciu, formerly a senior official in the Vatican administration, has become the highest-ranked cleric in the Vatican to be indicted over charges that include embezzlement and abuse of office.

The 73-year-old cardinal, who denies wrongdoing, was forced to resign last September, but retains his title.

Two top officials at the Vatican's Financial Intelligence Unit will also go on trial on July 27th on charges relating to a multi-million euro scandal involving the Vatican's purchase of a building in Sloane Avenue, one of London's smartest districts.

The trial will likely underscore Pope Francis' determination to cure the rot in Vatican finances, even if it involves messy public hearings.

Becciu, 73, whom the pope fired from his senior clerical post last year for alleged nepotism, and who has always maintained his innocence during a two-year investigation, becomes the most senior Vatican official to be charged with financial crimes.

The pope personally gave the required approval last week for Becciu to be indicted, according to a 487-page indictment request seen by Reuters. The Vatican announced the indictments in a two-page statement.

The charges against Becciu include embezzlement and abuse of office. An Italian woman who worked for him was charged with embezzlement and the cardinal's former secretary, a priest, was accused of extortion.

Becciu said in a statement that he was a victim of a "machination" and reaffirmed his "absolute innocence", and the "absolute falseness" of the charges against him.

Two Italian brokers, Gianluigi Torzi and Raffaele Mincione, were charged with embezzlement, fraud and money laundering. Torzi, for whom Italian magistrates issued an arrest warrant in April, was also charged with extortion.

There was no immediate response to attempts to reach their lawyers, but both men have consistently denied wrongdoing.

Four companies associated with individual defendants, two in Switzerland, one in the United States and one in Slovenia, were also indicted, according to the document.

The investigation into the purchase of the building became public on October 1st, 2019, when Vatican police raided the offices of the Secretariat of State, the administrative heart of the Catholic Church, and those of the Vatican's Financial Information Authority (AIF).

The then-president of the AIF, Rene Bruelhart, a 48-year-old Swiss, and AIF's former Italian director, Tommaso Di Ruzza, 46, were charged with abuse of office for allegedly failing to adequately protect the Vatican's interests and giving Torzi what the indictment request called an "undue advantage".

Di Ruzza was also accused of embezzlement related to alleged inappropriate use of his official credit card, and of divulging confidential information.

Bruelhart said in a text message that he had "always carried out my functions and duties with correctness" and that "the truth about my innocence will emerge."

Image: Vatican News.

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