Effectively resting the prosecution’s case, Promoter of Justice Alessandro Diddi yesterday requested stiff prison sentences, fines, confiscation of assets and other penalties for all ten defendants in the Vatican’s “trial of the century” for financial crimes, including an especially stern punishment recommended for Italian Cardinal Angelo Becciu.
All in, Diddi requested a total of 73 years and one month of imprisonment for the ten defendants, mostly related to charges arising from a failed $400 million real estate deal in London which, according to Diddi, cost the Vatican somewhere between $155 million and $210 million. The prosecution claims those losses were the result of a criminal scheme to defraud the Vatican, while defendants have insisted they were simply acting on decisions fully authorized and approved by the appropriate officials, including, in some cases, Pope Francis himself.
The court will now pause for the traditional August holidays in Italy. When the trial resumes in late September, civil parties will be heard by the three-judge panel overseeing the trial, followed by defense attorneys in October and November, with verdicts expected in early December.
For the 75-year-old Becciu, a former papal chief of staff who was stripped of his privileges as a cardinal by Pope Francis in 2020, Diddi recommended 7 years and three months in prison, citing among other things what he described as a “strategy” by Becciu of seeking to “delegitimize” the legal process.
“The strategy of Cardinal Angelo Becciu is the need to interfere with the investigations, not to collaborate with the magistrates,” Diddi told the judges on July 26. “This has been his modus operandi, always, from the beginning to today.”
“There’s also been persistence in using media leverage as a sort of cudgel to delegitimize the figure and the work of the Promoter of Justice,” Diddi said, referring to himself. Quoting from messages between Becciu and members of his family which had been entered into evidence at trial, Diddi said he was “saddened by the level to which the cardinal has been able to lower this process, without the slightest loyal gesture towards us.”
In addition to the prison term, Diddi proposed a fine of roughly $11,600 against Becciu, a permanent ban on holding any public office and a confiscation of $15.5 million. That final request does not amount to a finding that Becciu actually possesses $15.5 million in assets, but rather represents an estimate of his share of responsibility for losses sustained by the Vatican in what Diddi claims was a criminal scheme.
The charges against Becciu relate not only to the London affair but also to allegedly illegitimate transfers of funds between the Vatican and Becciu’s home diocese of Ozieri on the Italian island of Sardinia, as well as payments made to a friend allegedly to help secure the freedom of a kidnapped nun, but which, prosecutors charge, were actually spent on luxury items. The transactions date to the time Becciu served as sostituto, or “substitute,” in the Vatican’s Secretariat of State.
Becciu, who was not present for Diddi’s summation, has maintained his innocence, and did so again yesterday in a statement from his attorneys.
“The requests of the Promoter of Justice do not take account of the results of the trial, which have demonstrated the absolute innocence of the cardinal for the operation related to the property in London for every other accusation,” said lawyers Maria Concetta Marzo and Fabio Viglione.
“On the basis of theorems decisively refuted during the testimony, the Promoter of Justice has continued to sustain a thesis detached from the evidence,” they said. “As far as the requests of the Promoter, not even one day would be a just penalty. Only recognition of absolute innocence and full acquittal will respect what’s been established in the clearest possible way.”
“The cardinal always has been a loyal servant of the church and has suffered in silence, defending himself during the trial and participating actively in its hearings. Subjecting himself for several days to exhausting interrogations has clarified every misunderstanding, demonstrating absolute good faith and correctness,” the lawyers said.
Bishop Corrado Melis of Ozieri in Sardinia, as he has from the beginning, spoke in defense of Becciu yesterday, expressing “deep disappointment and human discouragement” over the prosecution requests.
In a statement, Melis again denied that “Cardinal Becciu interfered or intervened in the management of the Diocese of Ozieri in any way other than his institutional role, either on the strictly administrative level, or to seek favor or benefits to the personal advantage of third parties, and certainly not for his family members or other persons close to His Eminence.”
As far as the other defendants are concerned, Diddi requested the longest prison sentences for two lay Italians who served the Vatican’s Secretariat of State along with two Italian businessmen who brokered the London deal: A total of 13 years and three months in jail for Fabrizio Tirabassi and 9 years and 9 months for Enrico Crasso, respectively a former official and consultant of the Secretariat of State, as well as 11 years and five months for Raffaele Mincione and 7 years and 6 months for Gianluigi Torzi, both financiers involved in the London transaction.
In explaining the stiff recommended sentences, Diddi cited, among other considerations, the fact that none of the defendants has volunteered to help the Vatican cover its losses.
Despite the fact that “many crimes were committed against the patrimony, no one here has presented any offers of compensation for the damage, Diddi said, adding, “We’re not talking about disadvantaged people.”