By Phillip Pullella
VATICAN CITY (Reuters) – A court during a corruption trial in the Vatican on Thursday heard a secretly taped telephone conversation 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 played, but lawyers who heard it said Becciu had asked the pope to confirm that the pope had authorized a payment to help release a nun kidnapped in Africa .
The lawyers said that during the phone call, the pope seemed baffled and confused as to why Becciu called and that the pope repeatedly asked the cardinal to send him a written note stating what he wanted.
In 2018, Becciu, then the third most powerful person in the Vatican, hired co-defendant Cecilia Marogna, a self-described security analyst, to release a Colombian nun kidnapped in Mali by an al Qaeda-affiliated group.
Marogna, 44, received 575,000 euros ($598,630) from the Secretariat of State, the Vatican’s main department, in 2018 to 2019 when Becciu worked there. The money was sent to a company she set up in Slovenia and she received part of it in cash, the court has been told.
Police found that Marogna had spent much of the money on personal use, including luxury designer clothes and visits to spas.
She is charged with embezzlement and Becciu is charged with embezzlement, corruption and abuse of office. They, like the other eight defendants, have denied all allegations.
The lead prosecutor at the trial, Alessandro Diddi, told reporters Thursday he had begun a new tangent to his investigation in which he suspects Becciu of criminal conspiracy. He said he has filed the details with the court.
Becciu’s lawyers said in a statement they were not aware of any new allegations. The statement did not comment on the secretly recorded phone call.
A year before the trial began, Francis fired Becciu on charges of favoritism. Becciu denies having done anything to help his family financially.
On Thursday, Becciu faced his chief accuser, his former top aide Monsignor Alberto Perlasca. He told the court how he was ordered to make payments he found unusual.
He said he sent €100,000 to a charity in Sardinia, unaware at the time that it was related to Becciu’s family.
Becciu has said the charity has helped create jobs in a poor area.
The lawsuit revolves around the purchase of a building in London by the Secretariat of State. Among the 10 defendants are former Vatican employees and Italian intermediaries who, according to the prosecution, extorted the Vatican.
($1 = 0.9605 euros)
(Reporting by Philip Pullella; Editing by Jonathan Oatis)