Cardinal Becciu questioned about London investments
By Salvatore Cernuzio
"I don't know. I don't remember." Cardinal Becciu repeated those responses many times when faced with the hundreds of documents that the Deputy Promoter of Justice, Alessandro Diddi, sought to have projected during the 15th hearing of the Vatican trial for alleged wrongdoing with funds from the Secretariat of State.
The longest hearing held so far (it began at 9:50 a.m. and ended at 5:45 p.m.) and perhaps the one with the most heated tones between the Promoter and Cardinal Becciu who, slamming his hand on the table, exclaimed, "I have always and only worked for the good of the Holy See!" The president of the Vatican tribunal himself, Giuseppe Pignatone, at one point interrupted the hearing for a few minutes so as to calm spirits.
Video of documents projected
Chats, messages, deeds, letters, minutes from the Secretariat of State, and newspaper articles followed one another on the wall of the Vatican Museums' multi-purpose hall. The material brought out new contours of the purchase and sale of the London Palace and other investments, such as the one sent to Caritas in Ozieri. Sitting in the dock, the cardinal answered every question.
Msgr. Perlasca's report
Stirring up particular controversy was the display of a lengthy report by Monsignor Alberto Perlasca, then head of the Administrative Office of the Secretariat of State, in which the prelate in July 2019 (two months before the searches and the start of the investigations) said he was concerned about the affair of the purchase of the Sloane Avenue building and his relations with financiers Gianluigi Torzi and Raffaele Mincione (both defendants).
Diddi asked Cardinal Becciu about this information, which the cardinal said he did not know or could not put it into context. Defense attorneys, on the other hand, protested that the document was allegedly extracted from a chat present on Perlasca's computer that was never turned over to the records. "This is unheard of," one lawyer exclaimed, "questions are being asked using documents removed from the parties and the jurisdiction of the Tribunal." Diddi proved, however, that the document had been filed in a folder titled Report.
Partial rejection of plaintiff's claim
At the beginning of the hearing, Pignatone read a 20-page order in which he partly rejected and partly upheld the exceptions filed in the previous hearing against the monsignor's civil party status.
The Court upheld the status only against Cardinal Becciu for the crime of subornation, but rejected the one against Torzi, Tirabassi, Craso and Squillace for the crime of fraud, accused by the prelate of having "misled" him in signing the provision by which the thousand shares with voting rights were left to Torzi for the Sloane Avenue property (used by the broker to extort money from the Secretariat of State). For the Vatican court, "no harm is identified."
Prior to the questioning, Cardinal Becciu first sought to clarify the "issue" of Libero Milone, the former auditor who resigned from his Vatican post in 2017 (which he declared was against his will).
Asked about Milone's "fate" on 5 May, the cardinal had not answered "for love of the Holy Father." Instead, today he explained that he had been authorized in recent days by the Pope himself to speak. He then denied any responsibility for Milone's resignation. It was the Pope, he said, who in June 2017 instructed him to report to the auditor that "as of today he no longer enjoys the Holy Father's confidence" and that "he must resign."
"The reasons," he explained, "are contained in the communiqué of the Holy See Press Office (24 September 2017): it turns out that the Auditor's Office, going beyond its competence, has illegally commissioned an external company to carry out investigative activities into the private lives of members of the Holy See.
The duties of the Administrative Office
After the screening of a portion of Cardinal Becciu's press conference on 25 September 2020 in the Santa Maria Bambina Institute, the day after his resignation, the long repartee began, focusing mainly on the investments of the Secretariat of State.
To these and all subsequent similar questions, Cardinal Becciu responded in the same way, namely that it was "the Office of Administration that had the task of preparing all the dossier well" before proceeding with financial operations. "It had the moral obligation not to create problems for the superior, but also to make him look bad." On the London Palace - purchased, according to the cardinal, with the assets of the Secretariat of State and not with Peter's Pence funds - "they gave me a proposal that was totally advantageous for the Holy See. To go into details is difficult for me, also because it was their task."
Relations with the Secretariat of State
Cardinal Becciu said he did not remember - also due to the "stress" caused by the trial - all the documents projected with his signature at the bottom or opinions written in pen: "In the Secretariat of State there were hundreds of papers."
On more than one occasion it emerged how, even though he had ceased to be a substitute, the cardinal had taken an interest in Dicastery matters, such as the search on 2 October 2019: "I had never seen the Gendarmerie enter the Apostolic Palace; we were all amazed and worried. I wanted to know what had happened," the cardinal said by way of justification. Diddi pointed out to him that, although no longer a substitute, on a few occasions he had asked Msgr. Perlasca to "perform acts of office."
One chat read, for example, that the cardinal had asked his former collaborator for 14,150 Euro. Th money was linked, it seems, to the operations to free Sister Gloria Navaes Goti, a Colombian Franciscan who was kidnapped in Mali in 2017 and freed last year. Regarding the matter, Cardinal Becciu cut short by saying he offered "exhaustive clarifications" and "no need to further detail the liberation operation" of the nun. There is no mention, then, of "ransom payments."
Ample space, on the other hand, was given to the interrogation on contacts with Sardinian manager Cecilia Marogna, whom he met in 2016, whose connection with the Italian Secret Service he knew, and who allegedly contributed together with the British intelligence company Inkermann to the nun's liberation.
His contacts with her continued even after initial allegations that the manager had used the sums received from the Vatican for "voluptuous" purchases. "I got nervous; I called her; she denied everything. I was persuaded that she was telling the truth. I kept hearing from her because she had to update me on the negotiations."
Cardinal Becciu met with the manager even after her release from prison as a "priestly act". "She was devastated." The cardinal was at pains to clarify the details of Marogna's overnight stay in his Vatican apartment: "She stayed and talked until late. The nuns told me that she did not want to go back to the hotel for fear of Covid. She slept in their quarters. I found her again the next day at breakfast, we said goodbye, and I then went to the congregation."
The former Substitute then had to respond to a note that reported a meeting in late May 2020 with Giancarlo Innocenzi Botti, former undersecretary of the Berlusconi government, and the former Italian ambassador to the US, Alessandro Cattaneo, who wanted to present proposals for the purchase of the London Palace.
The project was presented by Cardinal Becciu to the Pope, confident of the two interlocutors' reputation for "seriousness," as well as to Cardinal Parolin and, on one occasion, also to the Promoter of Justice, Gian Piero Milano.
The proposal, on the other hand, revealed several critical issues, and central to exposing them was Father Juan Guerrero Alves, the current prefect of the Secretariat for the Economy, who in an email said he was "skeptical."
According to the prosecution's assumptions, it seems that a company run by Torzi was behind the proposal. Cardinal Becciu assured that he did not know and said that when Cardinal Parolin informed him that the proposal had been rejected, he did not insist further. "For me it was over there." He did, however, ask Cardinal Parolin to meet "on a personal level" with Cattaneo and Innocenzi.
Secretariat for the Economy, Torzi, press campaign
Finally, the cardinal was asked about relations with the Secretariat for the Economy under the leadership of Cardinal George Pell, who seemed to want to make an 'invasion of the field' on the 'sovereign' finances of the Secretariat of State.
Cardinal Becciu was also questioned about a 'suggestion' to Torzi, through mutual friend Marco Simeon, not to show up at the convocation of the Promoters of Justice in early June 2020. "Simeon wrote me that Torzi was afraid; I just threw it out there like that not to go; I didn't impose myself with authority. It was informal talk."
Similarly, Cardinal Becciu clarified the context of a sentence sent on WhatsApp to Crassus: "When the time is right, a good press campaign will have to be made! In fact, you could do it right away; ask your lawyer if it is the case to debunk our magistrates."
"Did you commission articles to campaign against?" the Promoter asked. The cardinal explained that the message stemmed from a conversation with "a desperate man" and was meant to be a way of telling him "defend yourself as you can."
The hearing continues on Thursday.