The Vatican court listens to a secret recording of the Pope about the hostages

VATICAN CITY — The Vatican’s financial fraud tribunal heard from an unusual witness on Thursday when a secret recording of Pope Francis was played to the court about the Holy See freeing a nun held hostage by al-Qaeda-linked militants.

The pope’s own voice in the courtroom marked a surreal new chapter in a trial that has already taken many twists and turns as Vatican judges try to determine who is responsible for the loss of tens of millions of euros in the Holy See’s assets. .

Vatican prosecutors introduced the tape into evidence on Thursday, saying it was part of material recently obtained from Italy’s financial police investigating a Sardinian charity linked to Cardinal Angelo Becciu, a former close Franciscan associate who is one of 10 accused. Vatican trial.

Vatican prosecutors revealed that evidence from Sardinia was added to a new Vatican investigation into alleged conspiracy against Becciu.

According to prosecutor Angelo Diddi, Becciu and a family member secretly recorded Francis on July 24, 2021, three days before the opening of the Vatican trial, when Becciu spoke to him on the phone from his Vatican apartment. While most of the defendants are accused of the Vatican’s 350 million euro investment in a London property, Becciu is on trial on charges of abuse of office and embezzlement along with a self-proclaimed security analyst who is also on trial, Cecilia Marogna.

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In the recording, Becciu asks Francis to essentially confirm that the pope authorized payments to a British company identified by Marogna to negotiate the release of a Colombian nun who was kidnapped in Mali in 2017. Francis, who had just been released from a 10-day hospital stay, was familiar with the case and, according to several lawyers who heard the recording, essentially agreed. The president of the tribunal ordered the journalists to leave the courtroom while the recording was being played, on the grounds that it had not yet been officially admitted into evidence.

Sister Gloria Cecilia Narvaez was kidnapped in Mali in February 2017 by al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, which carried out its insurgency by kidnapping Westerners. During his captivity, the group occasionally showed Narvaez on video, asking the Vatican for help.

Becciu told the court on May 5 that he raised the situation with Francis, and the pope agreed to spend up to €1 million to hire the British firm Inkerman Group to find the nun and secure her freedom. He was finally released last year and met the Pope.

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While the tape cast a questionable light on Becciu for secretly recording the pope, it proved Becciu’s and other defendants’ claims that Francis actually knew him and, in some cases, approved some of the expenses at issue in the lawsuit. Vatican law does not allow the pope to be questioned during a criminal trial, but defense lawyers said they wanted to ask him what he knew about various financial decisions and said the tapes bolstered their case that the pope had confessed. critical to the trial.

Prosecutors accuse Italian brokers and Vatican officials of a range of financial crimes, including fraud, embezzlement, corruption and abuse of office. The defendants in the London case are accused of defrauding the Holy See and then extorting 15 million euros from the Vatican to gain control of the property.

A Vatican court heard for the first time 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.

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The Vatican official most closely associated with the deal, Monsignor Alberto Perlasca, took the stand for the first time in much-anticipated testimony Thursday and immediately blamed his deputy for the fiasco. Perlasca was originally a key suspect in the investigation, but changed his story in August 2020 and is now considered a victim in the case.