Woman close to Vatican cardinal arrested in corruption investigation

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The Vatican’s swirling corruption investigation has taken a mysterious new twist with the arrest on an international warrant of a Sardinian woman believed to be close to one of the Holy See’s most powerful cardinals before her fall.

Italian financial police said Wednesday that Cecilia Marogna was arrested Tuesday evening in Milan on a warrant issued by the Vatican City State. A Guardia di Finanza official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the agency had no further information since the agents had simply executed the warrant on behalf of a foreign country, the Vatican.

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Italian newspapers have reported in recent weeks that Cardinal Angelo Becciu, former No. 2 of the Vatican Secretariat of State, has transferred hundreds of thousands of euros of Holy See funds to the Slovenian cabinet in Marogna, allegedly for humanitarian operations in Africa and Asia.

Reports, including interviews with Marogna herself, identified the 39-year-old as a political analyst and intelligence expert who contacted Becciu in 2015 to worry about the security of Vatican embassies in hot spots and was quickly integrated into the Cardinal’s small circle. .

Marogna told the Corriere della Sera that in four years, Becciu had paid him 500,000 euros in compensation, reimbursement of travel and consulting fees. She defended some luxury spending – from designer portfolios for example – as “perhaps for the wife of a Nigerian friend who was able to speak to the President of Burkina Faso”.

Becciu, who was sacked by Pope Francis last month after admitting to sending 100,000 euros in Vatican money to a charity run by his brother, insisted his relationship with Marogna was legitimate.

In an October 7 statement issued by his lawyer, Becciu said that “contacts with Cecilia Marogna are strictly about institutional affairs.”

Marogna’s arrest is said to be part of a large corruption investigation launched last year by Vatican prosecutors into the Holy See’s € 350million investment in a real estate business in London, largely funded by donations from the faithful.

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Vatican prosecutors are investigating a handful of Italian middlemen accused of stealing tens of millions of euros in fees from the Holy See as incompetent Vatican fund managers stood on the sidelines.

Vatican prosecutors have yet to indict anyone, and their case seems fraught with pitfalls and potential conflicts, given that the superiors of the Holy See have approved the contracts with the intermediaries who have ceded them the right to vote in the ‘agreement and provided them with huge management fees.

To this extent, it is not immediately clear what burdens Marogna might face if she were simply the beneficiary of the consulting fees approved by Becciu, who had been given broad discretion to manage the assets of the Secretary of State by none other than the secretary himself, Cardinal Pietro Parolin.

Becciu was the “substitute” for the Secretary of State from 2011 to 2018, during which time the initial real estate investment was made. But his replacement and the current No. 2 actually signed the final phase of the deal that cost the Vatican so much money.

Neither Becciu nor his replacement have been formally identified as suspects in the case, although when Francis fired Becciu last month, he also revoked his rights and privileges as a cardinal, meaning he could possibly be tried by Vatican magistrates.

Becciu, who like Marogna is originally from Sardinia, denied the wrongdoing and defended the initial investment as sound.

The Vatican’s criminal investigation was unusual in that it was leaked to Italian media, which widely reported on the progress of the investigation and Francis’ financial clean-up efforts. Last week, for example, an Italian investigative television show featured documents from the Vatican detailing the Vatican wire transfers to Marogna’s business and its spending at high-end boutiques such as Poltrona Frau and Chanel.

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Italian Vatican commentator Luis Badilla, writing in the widely read Vatican blog Il Sismografo, noted that the president of the Vatican criminal court, a former Italian magistrate, is also an editorial commentator for the Italian newspaper La Repubblica, whose exposed last month led to the eviction of Becciu.

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