Vatican court hears Pope’s secret tape on hostage charges

VATICAN CITY (AP) – A Vatican tribunal hearing a financial fraud case heard an unusual witness Thursday when…

VATICAN CITY (AP) — A Vatican tribunal hearing a financial fraud case heard an unusual witness Thursday when a secret tape of Pope Francis’ payments to the Holy See for the release of a nun held hostage by al-Qaeda-linked militants was played in court.

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

Vatican prosecutors introduced the tape as evidence on Thursday, saying it was part of material recently obtained from Italian financial police investigating a Sardinian charity linked to Cardinal Angelo Beccia, a former close associate of Francis who is one of 10 accused in the in the case of the Vatican Court.

Vatican prosecutors revealed evidence from Sardinia was also added to a new Vatican investigation in which Becciu is under investigation on charges of criminal conspiracy.

According to prosecutor Angelo Didi, Becciu and a family associate secretly recorded Francis on July 24, 2021, three days before the Vatican trial began, while Becciu spoke to him on the phone from his Vatican apartment. While most of the defendants face charges related to the Vatican’s €350 million London property investment, Beccia is on trial for alleged abuse of office and embezzlement in connection with his dealings with a Sardinian charity and a self-styled security service. an analyst who is also on trial, Cecilia Maroña.

On the recording, Beccia asks Francis to confirm that the Pope has authorized payments to a British firm Marogna identified 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 essentially agreed, according to several attorneys who heard the tape. The president of the tribunal ordered journalists to leave the courtroom while the recording was being played on the grounds that it had not yet been formally admitted into evidence.

Sister Gloria Cecilia Narvaez was abducted in Mali in February 2017 by Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, which has funded its insurgency by kidnapping Westerners. During her captivity, the group periodically showed Narváez on video asking the Vatican for help.

Becciu told the court on May 5 that he reminded Francis of her plight and that the pontiff had agreed to spend up to 1 million euros to hire the British firm Inkerman Group to find the nun and secure her freedom. She was eventually released last year and met with the Pope.

While the tape cast a dubious light on Becci for secretly recording the Pope, it corroborated claims by Becci and the other defendants that Francis was indeed aware of, and in some cases approved of, some of the spending at issue in the lawsuit them. There is no provision under Vatican law for questioning the pope during a criminal trial, but lawyers said they wanted to ask him what he knew about various financial decisions and said the audio reinforced their argument that the pope’s testimony was crucial to the trial.

Prosecutors have accused Italian brokers and Vatican officials of a range of financial crimes, including fraud, embezzlement, corruption and abuse of office. In the London case, they accuse the defendants of defrauding the Holy See and then extorting 15 million euros from the Vatican to gain control of the property. All 10 defendants have pleaded not guilty.

The Vatican court heard for the first time this week that the Holy See lost more than €100m on property transactions alone after it sold the property for around £186m this year after spending £275m to buy it. .

The Vatican official most closely associated with the deal, Monsignor Alberto Perlasca, appeared in court for the first time in some of the most anticipated testimony on 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 an injured party in the case.

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