By Philippe Pullella
VATICAN CITY (Reuters) – A court in a Vatican corruption trial 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 start of the trial and while the Pope was still recovering from a major bowel operation, a- they said in court.
Reporters were asked to leave the room as the tape played, but lawyers who heard it said Becciu asked the pope to confirm that the pontiff had authorized a payment to help free a nun who had been kidnapped in Africa.
Lawyers said that during the call, the pope seemed puzzled and confused as to why Becciu was calling and that the pontiff had repeatedly asked the cardinal to send him a written note about what he wanted.
In 2018, Becciu, then the Vatican’s third most powerful person, hired co-defendant Cecilia Marogna, a so-called security analyst, to free a Colombian nun who was kidnapped in Mali by a group linked to Al -Qaeda.
Marogna, 44, received 575,000 euros ($598,630) from the Secretariat of State, the Vatican’s most important 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 heard.
Police discovered that Marogna had spent much of the money on personal use, including luxury designer clothes and visits to spas.
She is accused of embezzlement and Becciu is changed for embezzlement, corruption and abuse of power. Like the other eight defendants, they denied any wrongdoing.
The trial’s chief prosecutor, Alessandro Diddi, told reporters on Thursday that he had begun a new tangent to his investigation in which he suspects Becciu of criminal association. He said he filed the details with the court.
Becciu’s lawyers said in a statement they were not aware of any new charges. The statement did not comment on the secretly recorded phone call.
A year before the start of the trial, Francis fired Becciu on suspicion of nepotism. Becciu denies doing anything to help her family financially.
On Thursday, Becciu faced his main accuser, his former senior assistant, Bishop Alberto Perlasca. He told the court how he was ordered 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 said the charity helped create jobs in a poor region.
The trial revolves around the purchase of a building in London by the Secretariat of State. The 10 defendants include former Vatican employees and Italian intermediaries who the prosecution says extorted from the Vatican.
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(Reporting by Philip Pullella; editing by Jonathan Oatis)