The trial of 73-year-old former cardinal Angelo Becciu over allegations he fraudulently spent $412 million of church money began in a special Vatican courtroom on Tuesday, months after he was removed from his post by Pope Francis.
The court case marks the culmination of a two-year investigation that discovered the cardinal had been involved in spending €350 million ($412 million) to purchase a property on Sloane Avenue in the posh London neighborhood of Chelsea that went awry.
Prior to his dismissal in September, Becciu was in charge of donations at the Vatican office that handles Church funds. He had been a close ally of Pope Francis and is the most senior Vatican official to stand trial for financial misconduct. The crimes he is accused of include funneling donations to businesses run by his brothers on the Italian island of Sardinia. Becciu has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing.
Alongside the cardinal, nine other defendants, who all deny wrongdoing, are on trial for extortion, embezzlement, money laundering and abuse of office. The case is being heard in a special courtroom set up in the Vatican Museums that has the space required to conduct the trial in a Covid-safe setting.
Two hearings will be held this week before the trial is expected to be adjourned until October. The case is set to last for several months before a judgment will be rendered. It comes after Pope France announced in April that he will allow lay judges to oversee cases involving cardinals and bishops, rather than it being handled by cardinals, as had been tradition.
“I think this trial marks a turning point that can bring about greater credibility of the Holy See in financial areas,” Father Juan Antonio Guerrero, the Vatican’s newly appointed finance chief said. He pledged to make the Church’s financial matters more transparent.
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