ROME — In his first major media appearance since being convicted of financial crimes by a Vatican tribunal and sentenced to five and a half years in prison, Cardinal Angelo Becciu told an Italian TV host Monday that “I want to shout to the world that I’m innocent.”
“I’m going to do everything I can, everything to demonstrate my innocence through the legal system and in every way possible,” Becciu said, speaking on the program Cinque Minuti (“Five Minutes”), hosted by Bruno Vespa, one of the country’s most renowned television journalists.
“I want to shout to the world that I’m innocent,” Becciu said. “I absolutely did not commit any of the crimes of which I’ve been accused.”
With regard to the complex London property deal at the heart of the recent Vatican trial, Becciu appeared to suggest that primary responsibility rested with Italian Monsignor Alberto Perlasca, who headed an administrative office within the Secretariat of State that oversaw the London operation but who escaped indictment by becoming a witness for the prosecution instead.
“I wasn’t the one who made the decision. As substitute, do you know how many offices I had to follow? There are 17. I didn’t have the time to follow economic and financial matters step by step,” Becciu said.
“A memo is prepared, a dossier, and it goes to the head of the office, who is really the one responsible for administration. At the time, it was Monsignor Perlasca,” he said.
“It was my technical experts who told me it was possible to do it, that it would produce a great advantage for the Holy See,” Becciu said. “They didn’t present any great risks.”
Becciu was convicted along with eight of the nine other defendants in the case centering on the $400 million purchase of a building in London that unfolded from 2014 to 2018. It marked the first time a cardinal has ever been tried, let alone convicted, by a Vatican court composed exclusively of lay judges and prosecutors.
The 75-year-old prelate was also found guilty of unrelated charges arising from two other cases, one involving transfers of roughly $125,000 to a Catholic charity in Sardinia led by his brother and another involving payments of $600,000 to a self-described security consultant for the liberation of a kidnapped nun, some of which, according to prosecutors, was used by the consultant to purchase luxury goods for herself.
Throughout the process Becciu has maintained his innocence, and his attorneys have announced plans to appeal the convictions.
In his comments to Vespa, Becciu defended the concept of the London deal, if not its execution.
“This is within the tradition of the Holy See,” he said. “Since 1929, after the Lateran Pacts, it began to invest in real estate, in London, Paris, Rome. It’s a tradition the Holy See had.”
Noting that the London deal unfolded in several stages, Becciu appeared to minimize his own role.
“For the purchase in London, there were four moments. There was the initial investment, then the exit from the fund (because it was a for a limited time), then the acquisition of the real estate, then the administration and the sale of the real estate,” he said.
“I was present only for the initial investment. When the other operations happened, I wasn’t there anymore,” Becciu said.
As for the transfers to the charity in Sardinia, Becciu said they occurred at the request of the local bishop, not on his own initiative, and that most of the money is still in the account of the diocesan branch of Caritas.
With regard to the security consultant, Cecilia Marogna, Becciu denied knowing that she spent any of the money set aside for the nun’s ransom on herself.
“I absolutely didn’t know this,” he said. “If I’d known, I wouldn’t have permitted it.”
Asked if he thinks Pope Francis believes him to be innocent, Becciu said, “I believe so, and I hope so.”
Today marks the deadline for defendants convicted by the Vatican tribunal to file a notice of their intent to appeal. Those appeals presumably will be heard by the Court of Appeals for the Vatican City State, which is made up of six judges, three clerics and three laity.