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Roman Catholic cardinal on trial in $412 million fraud case

Cardinal Angelo Becciu of the Roman Catholic Church has been accused of financial crimes in a $412 million fraud case.

The Roman Catholic cardinal, once a close ally of Pope Francis, has gone on trial in the Vatican after being accused of misusing Church funds in a London property venture.

He has been charged with spending $412 million of church money on a botched deal to buy a property in Chelsea, West London, that incurred huge losses in 2014.

Catholic church embezzlement
Image: CNS

Becciu denies wrongdoing.

The funds came out of Church money through offshore funds and companies, a deal the cardinal had defended in the past.

According to the BBC, in a statement released on July 3, the cardinal said he was “the victim of a conspiracy” and protested his “absolute innocence”.

Nine other defendants are also accused of crimes including extortion, embezzlement, money laundering and abuse of office.

In April, Pope Francis ordered that cardinals and bishops accused of crimes could be tried by lay judges – not by cardinals, which was the case previously.

The Vatican’s new finance chief, Juan Antonio Guerrero, says it is now more transparent about its affairs.

Last week, the Vatican published details of its holdings, including more than 4,000 properties in Italy and 1,120 in other European cities.

This trial marks the largest criminal trial in the Vatican’s modern history.

The defendants are alleged to have been involved in actions that effectively cost the Holy See tens of millions of euros through poor investments, dealings with disreputable money managers and purported favours to friends and family.

If found guilty, the defendants could face jail terms.

I think [the trial] marks a turning point that can lead to greater credibility for the Holy See in economic matters. The fact that this trial is taking place shows that the internal controls have worked: the accusations have come from within the Vatican,” said Guerrero.