By Philip Pullella
VATICAN CITY (Reuters) – A Vatican corruption trial court on Thursday heard a secretly recorded phone call between the main defendant, accused Cardinal Angelo Becciu, and Pope Francis.
The recording was made without the pope’s knowledge by someone in a room with Becciu in July 2021, shortly before the trial began, and while the pope was still recovering from major bowel surgery, the court was told.
Journalists were asked to leave the room while the tape was being played, but lawyers who heard it said Becciu asked the pope to confirm that the pope had authorized a payment to help release a nun who had been kidnapped in Africa.
The lawyers said that during the call the pope appeared confused and confused about why Becciu was calling and that the pope repeatedly asked the cardinal to send him a written note of what he wanted.
In 2018, Becciu, then the third most powerful person in the Vatican, hired co-defendant Cecilia Marogna, a self-styled security analyst, to free a Colombian nun kidnapped in Mali by an al-Qaeda-linked group.
Marogna, 44, received 575,000 euros ($598,630) from the Secretariat of State, the Vatican’s most important department, in 2018 to 2019, when Becciu worked there. The money was sent to a company she had set up in Slovenia and she got some cash, the court has been told.
The police discovered that Marogna had used a large part of the money for personal use, including luxury brand clothes and visits to spas.
She is charged with embezzlement, and Becciu is charged with embezzlement, corruption and abuse of office. Like the other eight defendants, they have pleaded not guilty.
The chief prosecutor at the trial, Alessandro Diddi, told reporters on Thursday that he had begun a new phase of his investigation, suspecting Becciu of criminal conspiracy. He said he deposited the details with the court.
Becciu’s lawyers said in a statement that they were not aware of any new charges. The statement did not comment on the secretly recorded phone call.
A year before the trial started, Francis fired Becciu on suspicion of nepotism. Becciu denies having done anything to help his family financially.
On Thursday, Becciu faced his chief accuser, his former top aide Monsignor Alberto Perlasca. He told the court how he was ordered to make payments which he considered unusual.
He said he sent 100,000 euros to a charity in Sardinia, not knowing at the time that it was linked to Becciu’s family.
Becciu has said the charity helped create jobs in a poor area.
The lawsuit concerns the purchase of a building in London by the Secretary of State. The 10 defendants include former Vatican employees and Italian intermediaries who, according to prosecutors, blackmailed the Vatican.
($1 = 0.9605 euros)
(Reporting by Philip Pullella; Editing by Jonathan Oatis)