ROME (AP) — A Vatican judge on Saturday indicted 10 people, including a once-powerful cardinal, on charges including embezzlement, abuse of office, extortion and fraud in connection with the Secretariat of State’s 350 million-euro investment in a London real estate venture.
The president of the Vatican’s criminal tribunal, Giuseppe Pignatone, set July 27 as the trial date, though lawyers for some defendants questioned how they could prepare for trial so soon given they hadn’t yet formally received the indictment.
The 487-page indictment request was issued following a sprawling, two-year investigation into how the Secretariat of State managed its vast asset portfolio, much of which is funded by donations from the faithful. The scandal over its multimillion-dollar losses has resulted in a sharp reduction in donations and prompted Pope Francis to strip the office of its ability to manage the money.
Five former Vatican officials, including Cardinal Angelo Becciu and two officials from the Secretariat of State, were indicted, as well as the Italian businessmen who handled the investment.
Vatican prosecutors accuse the main suspects of bilking millions of euros from the Holy See in fees, bad investments and other losses related to financial dealings that were funded in large part by Peter’s Pence donations to the pope for works of charity. The suspects have denied wrongdoing.
One of the main suspects, Italian broker Gianluigi Torzi, is accused of having extorted the Vatican of 15 million euros to turn over ownership of the London building in late 2018. Torzi had been retained by the Vatican to help it acquire full ownership of the building from another indicted money manager who had handled the initial investment in 2013, but lost millions in what the Vatican says were speculative, imprudent deals.
Vatican prosecutors allege Torzi inserted a last-minute clause into the contract giving him full voting rights in the deal.
The Vatican hierarchy, however, signed off on the contract, with both the pope’s No. 2, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, and his deputy approving it. Neither was indicted. In addition, Francis himself was aware of the deal and Torzi’s involvement in it.