A rare trial that puts a cardinal, his “lady,” and several con men in the dock inside the hallowed halls of the Holy See will start in earnest on Tuesday amid concerns that Pope Francis has made sure all 10 defendants will be convicted.
It should be noted that the Vatican does not pretend to be a democracy. The pope is for all intents and purposes an authoritarian leader who can hire and fire anyone in his government at will. That he also makes the laws without committee, changes rules without consensus, and delivers decrees with impunity usually works without major issues. But the defense teams in this high profile case argue that they are now caught in the gray area between who the pope likes and who he doesn’t.
The trial involves a €350 million property purchase in London with funds meant for the poor said to be swindled from the papal charity fund by trusted bankers. According to a 487-page indictment handed down in June, charity money meant to free a captive nun in Colombia also allegedly went instead to kit out a female consultant with designer bags and fancy shoes.
The only woman on trial, Cecilia Marogna, was a “security consultant” rumored to be a close acquaintance of Cardinal Angelo Becciu, a 73-year-old papal nemesis Pope Francis fired last September. “It’s all surreal. Up until yesterday… I felt I was a friend of the Pope, the faithful executor of the Pope,” Becciu, who is the highest-ranking prelate to ever face such charges, said in an interview after he was canned. “Then the Pope told me that he no longer had faith in me because he got a report from magistrates that I committed an act of misappropriation.”
All 10 defendants face charges ranging from embezzlement and money laundering to abuse of power and extortion. In addition, more than 40 companies are also named as potentially complicit, especially on the charges of money laundering. Becciu is charged for his role in the disastrous London deal, which cost the Vatican losses of more than $415 million, in addition to allegedly funneling funds to his brother’s charity and Morgona’s company in Slovenia to the tune of more than $1,000,000. They all deny culpability and have pleaded not guilty to the charges.
But defense lawyers have argued—in a slew of motions hastily filed last week—that the fact that the Holy See is not a signatory to any international convention that guarantees fair trials means there is no way any of those facing charges will get one.
Among the motions filed are claims of procedural violations, among them that the prosecution failed to hand over discovery documents including evidence from a turncoat who was a former associate of the defendants. Fabio Viglione, attorney for the cardinal, told reporters that these violations are “harmful” to the defendants’ rights and could adversely impact their right to a fair trial.
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