Standing on the right, Alessandro Diddi, the prominent Italian defense attorney who changed roles and became the chief prosecutor in the Vatican’s “trial of the century.” He has now filed a curious appeal against the verdict…
Letter #180, 2023, Saturday, December 23: Trial #5 — After the Guilty Verdicts, Appeals (also by the Prosecutor)
On December 16, one week ago, a three-judge panel led by Giuseppe Pignatone, famous in Italy as the prosecutor in a “maxi-trial” against the Italian mafia, issued guilty verdicts against nine of the 10 accused in a two-and-a-half year Vatican financial corruption trial, including against the most prominent defendant, Cardinal Angelo Becciu, 75, who now faces a prison sentence of 5 years and 6 months.
Becciu and the other convicted defendants immediately filed appeals of these verdicts. This means that the trial, in a second appellate phase, will continue for (likely) another year or so, trial observers say, until the court rules on the appeals.
Becciu remains free for now, pending the result of his appeal.
The prosecutor also appeals
Curiously, Alessandro Diddi himself, the prosecutor, has also filed an appeal, even though the judgment of “guilty” was issued on many of the accusations that he brought forward.
Why would a prosecutor appeal a verdict which resulted in guilty verdicts?
Because, though Diddi was successful in achieving “guilty” verdicts on some of the charges, he was not successful in persuading the court that his overarching vision was correct.
“Despite the Holy See tribunal doling out an unprecedented prison sentence to Cardinal Angelo Becciu for embezzlement, the ruling made clear that the judges rejected most of the 487-page indictment,” Euronewswrote this morning in a report drawing on the Associated Press. (link)
Dubbed by defense attorneys “Diddi’s “theorem,” Diddi contended that a complex and multi-year conspiracy existed between many of the accused to defraud the Vatican of tens of millions of dollars.
The court essentially rejected that argument.
For example, though Becciu was found guilty of nepotism with regard to the 125,000 euros sent to a Church charity in Sardinia where his brother was employed, and for fraud for hiring a “secret agent” for 575,000 euros over two years to try to free a Colombian nun kidnapped in 2017 by Islamic soldiers in Mali, he was not found guilty of many other charges against him.
Where Diddi argued that the accused had worked together to divert tens of millions from the Vatican to themselves through the London property deal, the court did not find evidence of the elaborate criminal fraud scheme sketched by Diddi.
“The Vatican’s chief prosecutor has appealed a court verdict that largely dismantled his theory of a grand conspiracy to defraud the Holy See,” Euronews writes. “In the end, the tribunal headed by Judge Giuseppe Pignatone acquitted one defendant entirely and convicted the others of only a few of the charges while still ordering them to pay €366 million in restitution. Diddi filed a three-page motion Tuesday [December 19] with the Vatican appeals court to convict each defendant on the full set of charges he originally laid out, although the tribunal ruled that many of the alleged crimes simply didn’t occur.” (link)
The Vatican’s longtime money manager, Enrico Crasso, was convicted of only three of the original 21 charges that he faced. Yet he too plans to appeal, Crasso’s lawyer, Luigi Panella, said.
“Contrary to the propaganda spread, the prosecutor’s appellate motion reveals that the tribunal to a large extent didn’t uphold the accusatory formula,” Panella said in an email. (link)
So this seemingly interminable trial is… still not over.
Many appeals have been filed, and will be heard.
So we could still be in for new arguments which might change how we perceive this trial, and how we judge the guilt or innocence of the convicted.
Ten Accused, Nine Convicted…
The trial began on July 27, 2021, after two years of investigation beginning in mid-2019.
In early July 2021, the Vatican City State’s Office of the Promoter of Justice (the state prosecutor), after an investigation by the Vatican’s gendarmes based on thousands of pages of documents, and on emails and text messages from sequestered computers and cell phones, filed a request before the Vatican tribunal that 10 suspects be charged (link).
Here is a list of these 10 and what the December 16 verdict was for each of them:
1. Msgr. Mauro Carlino (former secretary of the Substitute of the Secretariat of State; thus, he was Cardinal Becciu’s secretary — he was the one of the nine found not guilty)
Carlino has been found innocent of all charges.
2. Enrico Crasso (an intelligent financial broker who managed successful investments for the Secretariat of State for decades)
Crasso has been found guilty on three charges of embezzlement and sentenced to 7 years in prison.
3. Tommaso Di Ruzza (former director of the Vatican’s financial oversight agency, the AIF, Supervisory and Financial Information Authority)
Di Ruzza has been convicted of failing to report a suspicious transaction and he was fined less than $2,000.
4. Cecilia Marogna (an Italian woman from Sardinia, who received 575,000 euros over two years from the Secretariat of State, at Becciu’s request, with the approval of Pope Francis, for “intelligence services” that she offered the Vatican)
Marogna has been convicted of aggravated fraud and sentenced to 3 years and 9 months in prison, and asked to return all the funds she received.
5. Raffaele Mincione (a successful Italian financial broker based in London who invited the Secretariat of State to invest in his “Athena Fund,” which owned the London property at 60 Sloane Avenue, and who then used the invested money for his Fund’s other speculative investments)
Mincione has been convicted of embezzlement and money laundering and sentenced to 5 years and 6 months in prison.
6. Nicola Squillace (lawyer involved in the negotiations that Italian financier Gianluigi Torzi take over for Mincione in owning the London property)
Squillace has received a suspended sentence of 1 year and 10 months.
7. Fabrizio Tirabassi (an Italian layman, whose father had also worked for the Vatican, employed as an analyst and investment advisor in the Administrative Office of the Secretariat of State; he became a leading actor in the London property deal)
Tirabassi has been convicted of an extortion and a money-laundering charge, and was given 7 years and 6 months in prison.
8. Gianluigi Torzi (an Italian financial broker called to help the Holy See get out of the fund owned by Mincione, who was then himself asked to leave for a payment of 15 million euros, so that the property could be fully owned by the Vatican)
Torzi has been found guilty of fraud and extortion and has received a 6-year sentence.
9. René Brülhart (former president of AIF, charged with oversight over all Vatican finances)
Brülhart was convicted of failing to report a suspicious transaction and received a fine of less than $2,000.
10. Cardinal Angelo Becciu (the “Sostituto” or Deputy Secretary of State from 2011 to 2018; he worked very closely, first with Pope Benedict XVI and Cardinal Secretary of State Tarcisio Bertone, then, after Benedict’s resignation in 2013, with Pope Francis and with Cardinal Secretary of State Pietro Parolin; in 2018, he was made a cardinal and promoted to become Prefect of the Dicastery for the Causes of Saints)
Becciu has been found guilty of several counts of embezzlement and fraud. He was sentenced to 5 years and 6 months in prison, a permanent disqualification from holding public office, and a fine equal to more than $8,000.
Becciu, the Pope’s former chief of staff, is the highest-ranking Vatican official ever to face a trial in the Vatican’s criminal court.
Becciu’s lawyer, Fabio Viglione, told journalists last Saturday that the cardinal “will certainly appeal” the ruling.
In total, the three-judge tribunal ordered the confiscation of the equivalent of more than $180 million from the defendants and payment of more than $200 million of civil damages to Vatican offices.
These payments, if made, would make up for all the money lost (an estimated $150 million) in the London building deal, and more.
The Role of the IOR and the Vatican Auditor’s Office (link)
The first allegations which led to this trial came from the Vatican’s Istituto per le Opere di Religione (Institute for the Works of Religion, commonly known as the Vatican Bank) on July 2, 2019, followed by allegations from the Auditor General’s Office on August 8, 2019.
The allegations hypothesized the commission of serious crimes, such as fraud, extortion, embezzlement, corruption, aiding and abetting, blackmail.
The Auditor noted that the greater part of the Secretariat of State’s financial activity (77% of its portfolio) was concentrated in Credit Suisse and “had been invested in funds which, in turn, invested in securities of which the client was not aware,” as well as in high-risk offshore funds.
The Vatican magistrates in their indictment stated that these allegations evidenced “how the Secretariat of State may have been investing funds received for charitable purposes (Peter’s Pence and Entitled Funds, which by their nature are not to be used for speculative purposes), in extremely high-risk financial activity and, therefore, toward a goal completely incompatible with that of the original donors.” (link)
The trial thus revealed a split within the Vatican itself over how much authority over finances should be given to each of the city-state’s main financial entities: 1) APSA (Administration of the Patrimony of the Apostolic See), which administers all the Vatican’s property and rents its apartments in Rome; 2) the IOR (the Vatican bank); 3) the Secretariat of State, which has traditionally been autonomous and which invested its own funds in the London property; and 4) the Secretariat for the Economy, which was created a decade ago by Pope Francis and entrusted to the late Cardinal George Pell of Australia, to assist and oversee these other entities.
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