By Philip Pullella
VATICAN CITY (Reuters) – A Vatican corruption trial court heard on Thursday a secretly recorded phone call between the main defendant, embattled 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.
Reporters 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 seemed 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 foreign ministry, 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 received some cash, the court has heard.
The police discovered that Marogna had used much of the money for personal use, including luxury designer clothes and visits to health spas.
She has been charged with embezzlement and Becciu has been charged with embezzlement, corruption and abuse of office. Like the eight other defendants, they have denied any wrongdoing.
The main prosecutor at the trial, Alessandro Diddi, told reporters on Thursday that he had begun a new tangent in the investigation in which he suspects 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 began, Francis fired Becciu on suspicion of nepotism. Becciu denies having done anything to help the family financially.
On Thursday, Becciu met his main accuser, his former top aide Monsignor Alberto Perlasca. He told the court how he was required to make payments 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 that the charity helped create jobs in a poor area.
The court case concerns the purchase of a building in London by the State Secretariat. The 10 defendants include former Vatican employees and Italian middlemen who prosecutors say blackmailed the Vatican.
($1 = 0.9605 euros)
(Reporting by Philip Pullella; Editing by Jonathan Oatis)