null / Vatican Media.

Rome Newsroom, Sep 30, 2022 / 08:37 am (CNA).

After a break of over two months, the Vatican trial on financial corruption in the Secretariat of State continued this week with the interrogation of witnesses for the prosecution.

The court reconvened Sept. 28, 29, and 30, to begin the questioning of the first of what the prosecution expects to be a total of 41 witnesses it will call.

The witness list includes Vatican gendarme Stefano De Santis, who assisted the Vatican’s now chief Prosecutor Alessandro Diddi during the trial’s preliminary investigation; he is expected to testify at the next scheduled hearing on October 12. 

A British-Italian architect, Luciano Capaldo, has been called to testify by the prosecution the same week. Capaldo was the registered director of the holding company London 60 SA Ltd, through which the Secretariat of State controlled the London property after its purchase.

The building at 60 Sloane Avenue in London is at the center of the Vatican’s historic corruption trial, which began at the end of July 2021.

The Vatican has charged 10 people with crimes, including Cardinal Angelo Becciu, the former second-ranking official at the Secretariat of State. Becciu was questioned in May.

The London investment property was purchased by the secretariat in stages over several years for a reported £350 million pounds.

In July, the Vatican confirmed the London building had been sold to Bain Capital for £186 million ($223.6 million).

The Administration of the Patrimony of the Apostolic See (APSA) reported that the losses from the sale were absorbed by the savings of the Secretariat of State and therefore did not touch the pope’s charitable fund, Peter’s Pence.

The hearing on Wednesday consisted of the second half of the questioning of defendant Fabrizio Tirabassi, a former official at the Secretariat of State.

Thursday’s audience opened with the questioning of defendant Nicola Squillace, the lawyer of businessman and fellow defendant Gianluigi Torzi.

In the course of the trial, the only defendants who have not taken the stand are Gianluigi Torzi and Cecilia Marogna.

The Sept. 29 hearing then continued with the first witness, Roberto Lolato, who was called to testify for the prosecution as an expert witness.  

Prosecutors asked Lolato to examine the financial operations carried out by the Secretariat of State in relation to the purchase of the London building as a technical consultant.

On Friday, the Vatican’s auditor general, Alessandro Cassinis Righini, testified.

Righini had been acting auditor general since June 2017 and full auditor since May 2021.

He succeeded Libero Milone, who served as auditor general from 2015 until he was dismissed in 2017, just two years into a five-year mandate.

Milone was hired as the Vatican’s first auditor general in a move to introduce more financial transparency in the Vatican City State. 

Three months after stepping down, Milone claimed that he was “threatened” into resignation by an “old guard” opposed to his work and accused Cardinal Becciu of targeting him after he launched an investigation into a possible conflict of interest.

A Sept. 30 statement from Becciu’s lawyer, Fabio Viglione, claimed the suspension of the PricewaterhouseCoopers audit in April 2016 “was not an autonomous choice of the then-sostituto Monsignor Becciu, but a position taken by the Secretariat of State.”

Righini was questioned Sept. 30 about the external audit ordered by Cardinal George Pell, then prefect of the Secretariat for the Economy, and reportedly opposed by Becciu. 

He also answered questions about meetings he took part in with secretariat officials regarding financial investments.

Righini said he was surprised that the Secretariat of State considered making an investment in an oil company in Angola given its evident conflict with the teachings of Pope Francis in his environmental encyclical Laudato si (the investment eventually fell through).

Funds originally earmarked for the Angola investment were reportedly rerouted into the London building purchase.

The auditor general said Pope Francis did not know anything about the London investment. But later, under additional questioning, he revised his statement to say he could not be 100% certain the pope knew nothing.