Vatican court sending cardinal to jail for financial crimes

(Reuters/ Alessandro Bianchi)

A Vatican court created world headline when it sentenced talian Cardinal Angelo Becciu, a former adviser to Pope Francis, to five-and-a-half years in jail for financial crimes.

Becciu, 75, was the most senior Vatican official ever to face such charges and once seen as a papal contender himself, BBC News reported.

The trial centred on a property deal in London that ended in huge losses for the Catholic Church.

He strongly denied charges including embezzlement and abuse of office and his lawyers said his client was innocent and would appeal the judgement.

CNN described it as the Vatican's 'trial of the century.'

Becciu was tried with nine other defendants. All were convicted on some counts and found not guilty on others.

The defendants were ordered by the court to pay damages of over 200 million euros ($281.22 million) in total, said ABC News and Becciu was banned from public office for life.

The BBC said the trial exposed infighting and intrigue in the highest Vatican ranks, had been going on for two-and-a-half years.


Three judges took more than five hours considering the verdict, then Court President Giuseppe Pignatone announced that Cardinal Becciu had been convicted of embezzlement.

The others tried included financiers, lawyers and ex-Vatican employees, who were accused of different crimes, including fraud, money laundering and abuse of office.

They all denied commiting the crimes.

"We reaffirm Cardinal Angelo Becciu's innocence and will appeal," stated Becciu's lawyer, Fabio Viglione, after the verdict. "We respect the ruling, but we will definitely appeal."

The New York Times commented, "The conviction was a steep fall from grace for an official who had served years ago as Pope Francis' chief of staff. For some, it cast a shadow over Francis' pontificate, while for others, it showed his commitment to getting the church's financial house in order.


"But for many, the trial — which lasted years and brushed up against many of the church's top officials and players, including Francis himself — raised as many questions about the Vatican's judicial system, the competence of its officials and the pope's style of governance as it did about what crime Cardinal Becciu actually committed."

For the trial to go ahead in a Vatican criminal court, the Holy See changed law.

Cardinal Becciu was the first cardinal to stand trial in such a manner instead of having him tried by a court of his cardinal peers.

According to the New York Times scholars scrambled to find historical precedents, but the most recent, by some accounts, was in the 16th century.

Becciu is the first cardinal to be tried in Vatican City's criminal court by lay judges according to ABC.

Becciu retained his title but was stripped of his rights as a cardinal, including the right to participate in a papal conclave, after being incriminated in this case. Prosecutors had sought a of seven years and three months in prison.

Lawyers for Cardinal Becciu said he would not go to jail before the appeal trial hearing.

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