A Roman Catholic cardinal who was close to Pope Francis has appeared in court in the Vatican, accused of misusing church funds in a failed real estate project in London.
Cardinal Giovanni Angelo Piccio, 73, is the most senior cleric of the modern era facing trial for alleged financial crimes.
Piccio is accused of spending 350 million euros ($412 million) of church money on a failed deal to buy a property in Chelsea, in which the church suffered huge losses. The cardinal denies any wrongdoing.
The Pope sacked Cardinal Picchio in September, after reports emerged of alleged financial wrongdoing.
A two-year investigation revealed how the Vatican lost millions of dollars, including donations from worshipers, after buying a former Harrods warehouse on Sloane Avenue, Chelsea, in 2014. The cardinal was then responsible for donations at the Vatican Secretariat, which is responsible for church funds.
The charges against Picchio include transferring money to companies run by his brothers in their home country of Sardinia, Italy.
The indictment also included nine other defendants accused of crimes including extortion, embezzlement, money laundering and abuse of office.
The special courtroom is located in the Vatican Museums – not the usual courtroom, as more space was needed due to COVID-19 distancing measures and rules as well as the numbers of attendees.
The trial is expected to last for months. This week’s hearings – on technical matters – are likely to be postponed until October.
Who are the other defendants?
The indictment includes nine other people, including:
Swiss lawyer Renee Bruhlhart, who previously headed the Vatican Financial Regulatory Authority, formerly known as the Financial Informatics Authority, and his former deputy Tommaso de Rosa.
Mgr Mauro Carlino, who served as private secretary to Cardinal Picchio.
Enrico Crasso, who previously served as investment director at the Vatican.
Cecilia Maroniya, accused of buying luxury goods with funds that Cardinal Picchio set aside for the Vatican’s intelligence work, including efforts to free clerics held hostage in various countries.
All the accused deny any wrongdoing. If found guilty, they may face prison sentences, fines, or both.
Prosecutors allege that the London-based broker, Gianluigi TorziHe defrauded the Vatican and used his money to buy shares in the Chelsea Building, which was to be converted into luxury apartments. Torzi describes these allegations as a misunderstanding.
In April, the Pope decreed that cardinals and bishops accused of crimes could be tried by ordinary judges – not by cardinals, as was the case previously.
The Vatican’s new chief financial officer, Juan Antonio Guerrero, says the Vatican is now more transparent about its affairs.
Last week, the Vatican released details of all of its holdings, including more than 4,000 properties in Italy and 1,120 in other European cities.
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