Cardinal Angelo Becciu, a former adviser to Pope Francis, has been sentenced to five-and-a-half years in jail for financial crimes after a trial lasting two-and-half years.
Becciu, the most senior Catholic Church official ever to stand trial before a Vatican criminal court, was convicted of embezzlement and fraud.
The investigation hinged on the purchase in 2014 of a former Harrod’s warehouse in London by the Secretariat of State, the Vatican’s key administrative and diplomatic department.
According to the prosecution, Becciu had been irresponsible and “highly speculative” to invest more than $200 million (€200 million; £170 million) between 2013-2014, noting that this was about a third of the holdings of the Secretariat of State at the time.
However, this eye-watering amount only bought a 45 per cent share of the building, so by 2018, the Secretariat decided to invest a further €150 million to acquire the entire property.
Although Becciu and most of the nine other defendants on trial were charged exclusively for their roles in the London property, the Cardinal and another of the accused, Cecilia Marogna, were also indicted for two other criminal transfers.
One to a charity in Sardinia led by Becciu’s brother, and another to a lay female security consultant for the liberation of a missionary nun kidnapped in Mali.
According to the prosecution, Marogna, who had offered her services to the Vatican as an intelligence expert, allegedly spent the money on luxury goods and holidays.
In fraud cases, prosecutors will try to trace misappropriated funds into the hands of those accused of fraud.
In this case, Becciu has been adamant that he has never received any economic benefit from the money spent by the Secretariat, and it remains unclear at the moment what findings the court made in this regard.
Roger Isaacs, Forensic Partner at Milsted Langdon, said: “The fact that this long-running case is being described as the largest fraud in the Church’s history together with the length of the Cardinal’s sentence, suggests that he was found guilty of more than just incompetent investment.
“Typically, in cases such as this it is the forensic accountants who are tasked with following the money trail to find a link between victims and perpetrators. That this trial lasted two and a half years gives a good indication as to how convoluted the trail is likely to have been.”
Sources: BBC News