Vatican indicts 10, including a cardinal, in London deal

ROME (AP), A Vatican judge indicted 10 people on Saturday on fraud, embezzlement and abuse of office charges. The allegations relate to the Secretariat of States 350-million-euro investment into a London real-estate venture.Giuseppe Pignatone (president of the Vatican's Criminal Tribunal) set July 27th as trial date. However, some lawyers for defendants were unsure how they could prepare so quickly for trial since they had not yet received their indictment.After a two-year-long investigation into how the Secretariat of State managed its large asset portfolio, the 487-page indictment request was issued. Much of it is funded by donations from the faithful. Due to the scandal surrounding its multimillion-dollar losses, donations have dropped sharply and Pope Francis has ordered that the Secretariat of State be stripped of its management ability.Five former Vatican officials, including Cardinal Angelo Becciu, and two Secretariat of State officials were indicted. The same goes for the Italian businessmen who managed the investment.The main suspects are accused by Vatican prosecutors of defrauding the Holy See of millions of Euros in fees, bad investments, and other losses due to financial transactions that were funded in large parts by Peter's Pence donations made to the pope to support works of charity. They denied any wrongdoing.Gianluigi Turzi, an Italian broker, is one of the suspects. He is accused of extorting the Vatican of 15 millions euros in order to get the London building's ownership transferred to him in 2018. The Vatican retained Torzi to assist it in acquiring full ownership of the building. It had previously acquired the property from an indicted money manager, but he lost millions in what the Vatican claims were speculative and imprudent deals.According to Vatican prosecutor, Torzi added a clause in the last minute that gave him full voting rights.Continue the storyHowever, the Vatican hierarchy signed the contract with the pope's No. 2. Cardinal Pietro Parolin and his deputy approved it. Both were not indicted. Francis was also aware of the deal and Torzi’s involvement.According to Vatican prosecutors, the Vatican hierarchy was tricked by Torzi. The Vatican lawyer was also accused of assisting Torzi in his scheme. The Secretariat of State plans to declare itself a party in the case.Torzi denied the charges and claimed that the accusations were based on a misinterpretation. He is currently in London, awaiting an extradition request from Italian authorities. They want to charge him with other financial crimes. His representatives stated that they could not comment on Saturday as they had not yet seen the indictment.Indicted as well was Cardinal Angelo Becciu (a former papal candidate and Holy See official), who was the chief of staff at the Secretariat of State and helped to engineer the initial London investment.Francis fired him last year as Vatican's saint-making chief, possibly in connection to another issue: Becciu’s 100,000-euro donation from Holy See funds for a diocesan charity run his brother.Becciu was not originally part of the London investigation, but he was added after it became apparent that he had been behind the plan to purchase the building. Prosecutors claim that he also interfered with the investigation.Becciu, in a statement released Saturday by his lawyers, insisted on "the absolute falsity" the accusations and decried what he called "unparalleled media pillory" in relation to him in the Italian press."I am the victim in a plot against me. He said that he had been waiting for years to hear about any allegations against me.Cecilia Marogna (self-described intelligence analyst) was one of Beccius' proteges and was indicted for embezzlement. After she contacted him in 2015 about concerns regarding security at Vatican embassies around the world, Becciu hired Marogna to be an external consultant. According to WhatsApp messages, Becciu gave permission to Marogna to use Holy See funds totalling hundreds of thousands of euro to release Catholic priests and nuns being held hostage in Africa.The funds were received by her Slovenian-based holding firm, which was also ordered to stand trial.Marogna claims the money was reimbursements and compensation for legitimate intelligence work. Prosecutors claim she used the money to make luxury purchases that were not compatible with her company's humanitarian goals.Her legal team stated Saturday that Marogna was prepared for months to give an accurate accounting of her work, and they have no concerns about the allegations against her."The former top two officials of the Vatican's financial watchdog agency were also indicted for alleged abuses of office. Prosecutors claim that by failing to prevent the Torzi deal from happening, they "performed a decisive function" by allowing it to happen.Tommaso diRuzza, the lawyer representing the ex-office director, stated that he only had seen the Vatican press release about the allegations, but maintained that his client had always acted in strict compliance with the law and his office duties in the sole interest of Holy See.Rene Bruelhart was the former head of the office and defended his work. He said that his indictment was a procedural error that will be quickly clarified by the Vatican justice organs as soon as defense can exercise its rights.Monsignor Mauro Mauro Carlino, a former Secretary of State official, expressed shock at his arrest on alleged extortion/abuse of office charges. He said that he only participated in the deal after he had been ordered by his superiors, to negotiate Torzi down to a 15 million euro fee from 20 million.Salvino Mondello, his lawyer, stated that it was impossible to believe that such a noble act, which did not bring him any personal benefit but had instead provided significant savings for State Secretariat, could lead to indictment.