First Vatican trial under laws against financial crime to open Tuesday

First Vatican trial under laws against financial crime to open Tuesday

Tuesday sees the start of the Vatican trial of two former officials of a papal hospital in Rome charged with illicitly using funds to renovate the Vatican apartment of Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, in a way that benefited a fellow Italian businessman. Bertone himself was not an object of the Vatican investigation and does not face any charges in the trial, which marks the first prosecution under new Vatican laws on financial crime.

ROME — A Vatican criminal trial against two former members of a foundation overseeing the Vatican’s Bambino Gesù pediatric hospital is set to start Tuesday, on charges of illicitly using foundation funds to help finance the remodeling of the apartment of Italian Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, former Secretary of State under Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI.

Bertone himself, however, was not an object of the investigation and does not face any charges.

Giuseppe Profiti, who was president of the Bambino Gesù foundation until 2015, and Massimo Spina, the former treasurer, were called to appear before Vatican judges beginning July 18. If they fail to attend court, they will be charged with contempt, according to a July 13 statement from the Vatican’s press office.

After a Vatican investigation which lasted more than a year, Profiti, Spina and their lawyers were notified of the charges June 13, and had until July 11 to supply evidence for their defense.

The Vatican statement said Profiti and Spina “were paid” more than almost $500,000 for “completely non-institutional ends,” using the money to refurbish Vatican property in order “to benefit Gianantonio Bandera’s company.”

Bandera is an Italian businessman whose construction company performed much of the work on Bertone’s Vatican residence.

The alleged crime committed in Vatican City State spanned from November 2013 to May 28, 2014 — the time period that the contractor’s seven invoices were dated and paid for, according to news reports.

Giuseppe Dalla Torre, president of the tribunal of Vatican City State, will not be part of the trial proceedings because he is a member of the Bambino Gesù’s board of directors, according to Greg Burke, Vatican spokesman.

In his 2015 book Avarice, Italian journalist Emiliano Fittipaldi reported that some $481,000 from the foundation had been used to remodel the cardinal’s 3,230-square-foot apartment, located within Vatican grounds, overlooking the gardens.

The cases of financial wrongdoing documented in the book led to Fittipaldi and four others facing their own Vatican trial.

A judge determined that the court had no jurisdiction over Fittipaldi and another Italian reporter, Gianluigi Nuzzi, but two former members of a commission set up by Francis to provide him with information regarding the state of Vatican finances were found guilty.

Given that both Profiti and Spina are Italian citizens and not clergy, they could, as the journalists did, dispute the Vatican court’s jurisdiction. However, that argument didn’t work for Italian lay woman Francesca Chaouqui, who was at the heart of what was known as the “Vatileaks 2.0” scandal.

Profiti was appointed hospital president by Bertone in 2008, and has acknowledged that the foundation spent the funds in Bertone’s home. He left his post in January 2015, nine months into a new three-year term.

Last year, he acknowledged in an interview with Italian daily La Stampa that hospital funds had been used in the apartment renovation, defining the expense as an “investment,” since he intended to use the place, overlooking the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica, to organize fundraising events for the hospital.

“The presence of Your Illustrious Eminence as a guest at these events would be a guarantee of a certain success in terms of participation and relative economic and institutional return,” Profiti wrote Bertone in a November 7, 2013 letter pitching the idea. He also suggested using the foundation money in exchange for access to the top floor of Bertone’s apartment.

This letter and Bertone’s rapid response promising to come up with the funds from third parties, were published by L’Espresso magazine March 31, 2016.

Bertone, 82, has denied any wrongdoing. On top of the money used from the hospital funds, he allegedly put more than $300,000 from his own money into the renovation project. Back in 2014, writing on the webpage of the Diocese of Genoa, which he led from 2002-2006, he said that the apartment was spacious “as is normal for the residences in the ancient palaces of the Vatican,” and it was “dutifully restored (at my expense).”

He further justified the expense saying that it would only “temporarily” serve him, and it would then benefit someone else.

Mariella Enoc, current hospital president, told journalists in late 2015 that Bertone “never directly received money” from the hospital’s foundation, but “acknowledging that what has happened has been detrimental to the Bambino Gesù,” and that he met the institution “halfway,” giving a donation of some $170,000.

Bertone’s successor as Vatican secretary of state, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, said last week that the trial evidences the transparency Francis wants to bring to the Church’s finances.

“And it’s only right that everyone accounts for his or her own behavior,” Parolin said when the indictments were announced.

Recently, Bambino Gesù was the subject of a reporting series by the Associated Press charging that during Profiti’s tenure, children’s health was put at risk in the pursuit of financial gain. Those accusations were denied by papal spokesman Greg Burke, who called them “false and unjust.”

This marks the first time the Vatican publicly has announced an indictment under new measures intended to fight financial money-laundering and financial crime, which began under Benedict XVI and have been strengthened under Francis.

The need to enforce those laws was a key point in the last evaluation of the Vatican performed by Moneyval, the Council of Europe’s anti-money laundering agency, which is set to update that assessment later this year.

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