Giovanni Angelo Becciu was found guilty of enabling a property scheme aimed at defrauding the Holy See out of millions of dollars
A Vatican court has sentenced Cardinal Giovanni Angelo Becciu to five years and six months behind bars for his role in a scheme involving property in London that is believed to have cost the Holy See millions of dollars. Becciu became the first cardinal to be tried and sent to prison by a Vatican court.
Aside from the 75-year-old, nine other defendants stood trial, with sentences handed down on Saturday totaling 37 years.
According to an article published by the media outlet Vatican News, the high-ranking cleric, who occupied the position of sostituto (substitute) in the Holy See’s Secretariat of State, was also barred from ever holding public office. He must also pay a fine of €8,000. Becciu was found guilty of three counts of embezzlement.
The case, which was launched back in July 2021, and spanned some 856 hearings, revolves around the Vatican’s purchase of a vast property in southwest London’s Chelsea neighborhood, for which the Holy See shelled out approximately $400 million over several years. However, in the end, it had to sell the asset, losing $150 million. Between June 2013 and February 2014, Cardinal Becciu gave the green light to the deal, with hedge fund Athena Capital Global Opportunities Fund acting as an intermediary.
The latter entity, headed by Raffaele Mincione, was characterized by a “highly speculative” nature, prosecutors insisted. According to investigators, “funds received for charitable purposes” ended up being invested “in extremely high-risk financial activity and, therefore, toward a goal completely incompatible with that of the original donors.”
The value of the London property is believed to have been “grossly overestimated in the documents presented to the Secretariat of State.”
The whole affair attracted the attention of the Vatican’s financial watchdogs in 2019, with Pope Francis describing it as a “scandal” at the time.
The cardinal has consistently denied all charges against him, with his lawyer stating on Saturday that he would appeal the verdict. Mincione also insisted on his innocence, adding that claims of an “inflated price” were never substantiated.
In a separate episode, the Cardinal paid some €570,000 ($622,000) out of the Vatican’s coffers to a security consultant for fictitious services. The money was meant to go toward the “liberation of a religious sister, a victim of kidnapping in Africa,” but was instead apparently spent on fashion clothing items and luxury hotels.
The cleric was also found guilty of embezzling an additional €125,000 ($136,000) by transferring Vatican funds to a cooperative run by brother Antonino Becciu, ostensibly for charitable purposes.
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