Bribes, nepotism and spies: the plot that makes the Vatican tremble...

Bribes, nepotism and spies: the plot that makes the Vatican tremble...
Bribes, nepotism and spies: the plot that makes the Vatican tremble...
In the photo, Angelo Becciu after swearing loyalty to the Pope and becoming a cardinal.ANDREAS SOLARO / AFP

The Vatican has turned its new scandals into an authentic reality show starring cardinals, financial sharks and mysterious ladies who play spies and spend thousands of euros from the Holy See on luxury items that should be used to help poor countries. At the center of the intrigue is Cardinal Giovanni Angelo Becciu, who was one of the most powerful men in the Vatican – he was in all the betting pots for the next conclave – and guardian of most of the ancient institution’s secrets. It is now his miseries that come to light in an unbridled hunt: nepotism, a supposed bribe to a group of victims to accuse a rival cardinal of pedophilia, malpractice … But the fan is on, and Becciu is not just any prelate. No one knows how this investigation and the violent crossfire that threatens to overshadow the process of intrigue and corruption known as Vatileaks, which ended in the abdication of the previous pontiff, Benedict XVI, can end.

The crows returned to the Vatican and this time around the red cap of Giovanni Angelo Becciu (Pattada, Italy, 72 years old), who was assistant secretary of state in Ratzinger’s time and survived the purge made by Francisco on his arrival. It was a highly relevant post – number 3 in the hierarchy – which deals with the functioning of the Vatican’s engine room and gives access to all the secrets of the Holy See. When he was elected in 2013, Francis liquidated the chief from that department, the controversial secretary of state of Benedict XVI, Tarcisio Bertone (who, among other things, built for himself in 2014 a penthouse apartment of 700 square meters, paid for with resources from a children’s hospital), and part of its surroundings. They were all marked as causing part of the scandals; Ratzinger even qualified them as “wolves”. But Becciu, of a refinement and subtlety far superior to the average, skilled plumber of the Holy See, survived as number two in the Secretary of State and became one of Francisco’s most trusted people. “He was the only one who said things as they were. And the Pope trusted him a lot ”, points out a Vatican source who had close contact with both.

Becciu dealt from 2013 to 2018 with the most delicate matters of the Secretary of State and dealt with the biggest scandals of the 21st century, including the historic abdication of Benedict XVI. Prepared, smart, quick and with an extremely flexible political sense, trained in different apostolic nunciations, he created a legion of faithful intramurals who continue to defend him privately. But it also made great enemies, who were waiting for a chance like this for final revenge. Becciu controlled the accounts, prevented some from sniffing too much when it didn’t suit him – as the auditor Libero Milone, former president of Deloitte, hired by Francisco to put order in finances and fired under strange circumstances – and took care of the Vatican communication with zeal from Secretary of State. But Francisco replaced him in 2018 before turning him into a cardinal – in his place the Venezuelan Edgar Peña Parra – and placed him as prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints. A kind of firing up, which reduced its power, but kept it with chances of being the object of divine providence’s desire in the next conclave. For in the Roman curia many consider that the next Pope, after more than 40 years, must be Italian (the last was John Paul I, who died in strange circumstances in 1978, after 33 days of pontificate). Becciu was one of the best placed until the scandals started.

The first problem arose when, last year, he learned of his intervention in the acquisition of a property in Sloane Square, in the London neighborhood of Chelsea. In 2013, the Secretary of State authorized the investment in a fund that had a building that had hosted Harrod’s department stores, but the financial structuring of the business forced over the years to increase the capital so as not to lose the amount invested. The sum reached 300 million euros (almost two billion reais, at the current exchange rate), an increase that the Vatican Bank – another body at war with the old Secretary of State – had to authorize and denounced when the alarms were triggered. possible money laundering. Sources close to Becciu explain that the cardinal has always acted in good faith so that the Holy See’s economies have an income. The head of Gendarmeria, the historic Domenico Giani, who had taken care of the protection of three popes, fell. Five of his closest collaborators were also arrested and summarily dismissed, without waiting for a trial. One of them, Monsignor Alberto Perlasca, decided to collaborate with the Vatican Justice and began to reveal alleged corrupt operations by his former boss. From this source emanate the new scandals.

The Pope’s rebuke of Becciu took place on September 24, for reasons previously unknown. The Pope asked him for explanations in a high-tension audience, but he was not convinced and asked him to renounce cardinal rights – something that has only happened on three occasions in the past 120 years – and the ownership of his dicastery. According to the revelations, allegedly made by his collaborators, the cardinal had favored several of his brothers, commissioning work in the nunciations he headed (Angola and Cuba) and authorizing the transfer of 100,000 euros to the cooperative of one of his relatives. According to the cardinal’s version, the money was handed over to resolve an emergency, but remains in the NGO cashier. The Holy See’s communications department gave no explanation and waited for the crows, with due leaks, to devour the prelate.

Possible bribery

The real reasons, however, went beyond what was reported. On Tuesday night, under an international arrest warrant coordinated by Interpol, Carolina Marogna was detained, already dubbed by the Italian media as “the lady of the cardinal”, 39, who owns a detective agency based in Slovenia who Becciu had hired and transferred up to 500,000 euros for alleged diplomacy and intelligence missions. Part of that money, she acknowledged, was used to buy luxury items: 12,000 euros in a Frau armchair; 2,200 euros in Prada products, 1,400 at Tod’s and 8,000 at Chanel. “Perhaps the scholarship was for the wife of a Nigerian friend who could speak to the President of Burkina Faso,” she said. To the newspaper Tomorrow, Marogna also said that part of that money was related to her fees and spent it as she saw fit: “I’m not a missionary, I don’t work for free”.

The virulent hunt for Becciu is not over. His old rivals, such as the dismissed mayor for Communication, Monsignor Dario Viganó, celebrated his fall openly, with the right to an official note. Others, such as Cardinal George Pell, whom the Pope had charged with reforming the Curia’s finances and who always considered that the Sardinian prelate hindered his mission, fired heavy artillery. The Australian cardinal, through his lawyer, called for an investigation into the alleged sending of Vatican resources to buy the will of witnesses who accused him of abusing minors and incarcerated him for more than a year (in the end he was acquitted). Becciu obviously denies it. But this is yet another turnaround in the Vatican’s fierce power struggles, which, if confirmed, would set a precedent never seen in an institution that has seen all kinds of conspiracies, alleged murders and that, 40 years later, even continues to seek the bones of a missing girl within its walls.

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