VATICAN CITY (AP) — A Vatican court is examining a financial fraud case heard from an unusual witness Thursday when a secret recording of Pope Francis was played in court about the Holy See’s payments for the release of a nun held hostage by Al Qaeda-linked militants.
The broadcast of the pope’s own voice in the courtroom marked a surreal new chapter in a trial that has already seen many twists and turns as Vatican judges try to determine who, if anyone, is criminally responsible for the loss of tens of millions of euros in property. elements of the Holy See.
Vatican prosecutors introduced the recording into evidence on Thursday, saying it was part of material recently obtained by Italian financial police investigating a Sardinian charity linked to Cardinal Angelo Becciu, a once close associate of Francis who is one of the 10 defendants in the Vatican Trial.
Vatican prosecutors revealed that the Sardinian evidence also added to a new Vatican investigation in which Betsiou is under investigation for alleged criminal conspiracy.
According to prosecutor Angelo Diddi, Becciu and a family associate secretly recorded Francis on July 24, 2021, three days before the start of the Vatican trial, when Becciu spoke to him by phone from his Vatican apartment. While most of the defendants face charges related to the Vatican’s €350 million investment in London property, Becciu is on trial for alleged abuse of power and embezzlement in connection with his dealings with a self-proclaimed security analyst who is also on trial, Cecilia Marogna.
In the recording, Becciu asks Francis to essentially confirm that the Pope had approved payments to a British company identified by Marogna to negotiate the freedom of a Colombian nun kidnapped in 2017 in Mali. Francis, who had just been released from a 10-day hospital stay, was familiar with the case and essentially agreed, according to several lawyers who listened to the recording. The presiding judge ordered reporters to leave the courtroom during the playback of the recording, on the grounds that it had not yet been officially admitted as evidence.
Sister Gloria Cecilia Narvaez was kidnapped in Mali in February 2017 by al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, which had funded its insurgency by kidnapping Westerners. During her captivity, the group periodically showed Narvaez on video asking the Vatican for help.
Becciu had told the court on May 5 that she had raised her issues with Francis and that the pontiff had agreed to spend up to 1 million euros to hire the British company Inkerman Group to find the nun and secure her freedom her. She was finally released last year and met with the pope.
While the recording cast a dubious light on Becciu for secretly recording the pope, it substantiated claims by Becciu and other defendants that Francis was indeed familiar with, and in some cases, authorized, some of the expenditures at issue in the trial. There is no provision in Vatican law to question the pope during a criminal trial, but defense lawyers said they want to ask him what he knows about the various financial decisions and said the recording bolstered their argument that the pope’s testimony is critical to the trial.
Prosecutors have charged Italian brokers and Vatican officials with a range of financial crimes, including fraud, embezzlement, corruption and abuse of power. The London case accuses the defendants of defrauding the Holy See and then extorting 15 million euros from the Vatican to gain control of the property.
For the first time, the Vatican court heard this week that the Holy See lost more than €100m on the property transaction alone, having sold the property this year for around £186m after spending £275m to buy it.
The Vatican official closely linked to the deal, Monsignor Alberto Perlasca, took the stand for the first time Thursday in one of the most anticipated testimonies and immediately blamed his deputy for the fiasco. Perlaska was initially a prime suspect in the investigation, but in August 2020 he changed his story and is now considered a casualty in the case.