VATICAN CITY (Reuters) – A defendant at a Vatican trial testified on Wednesday that superiors including Pope Francis approved a 15 million euro settlement to get the Vatican out of a botched London real estate deal to avoid a total loss.
Testifying for more than four hours, Monsignor Mauro Carlino described the final phases of the venture, which began when the Vatican’s Secretariat of State invested 350 million euros ($390 million) in 2014 with Italian broker Raffaele Mincione to buy a luxury building in London.
In 2018, the Vatican felt it was being fleeced by Mincione, according to the indictment document, and turned to another broker, Gianluigi Torzi, to get out of the first deal.
But Vatican prosecutors accuse Torzi of duping the Vatican and trying to take control of the building by assigning himself the voting shares. The Vatican then sought an exit deal with Torzi.
Carlino testified that in May 2019, he and other Vatican negotiators agreed to give Torzi 15 million euros to allow it to leave the venture.
Torzi, Mincione, Carlino, and another seven defendants, who include former Vatican officials and employees, have denied all wrongdoing.
“I never moved a finger without authorization from my superiors,” said Carlino, who is accused of extortion and abuse of office.
He said his boss, deputy secretary of state Archbishop Edgar Pena Parra, “constantly informed the secretary of state (Cardinal Pietro Parolin) and the Holy Father”.
Carlino said the pope wanted the Vatican to get out of the mess but by “spending as little as possible” so that the investment would not be a total loss. Prosecutors at the trial, which began in July, said the Vatican lost 217 million euros, some of it from funds that had been donated by the faithful.
Carlino testified that Pena Parra told him that the pope was “happy that we were finally ending this”.
The court was also told that the pope had lifted “pontifical secrecy” so that Cardinal Angelo Becciu could answer questions about a woman in his employ who did undercover intelligence work in 2018-2019.
Cecilia Marogna, 42, is charged with embezzlement. A self-styled secret agent, she has said she used all of a 575,000-euro stipend of Vatican money to ransom kidnapped missionaries in Africa. She has denied charges that she used some of the money to buy luxury goods.
The trial was adjourned until April 5.
($1 = 0.8961 euros)
(This story was refiled to correct to 15 million euro, not dollar in first paragraph)
(Reporting by Philip Pullella, Editing by Rosalba O’Brien)