Cardinal skips Vatican trial to boycott talk of rumoured liaison with woman

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FILE PHOTO: Cardinal Giovanni Angelo Becciu speaks to the media in Rome

By Philip Pullella

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - A cardinal who is a defendant in a Vatican corruption trial stayed away on Tuesday because he did not want to be in the room when lawyers spoke of rumours that he had an intimate relationship with a woman, which he has denied.

The trial, in which 10 defendants are accused of fraud and other crimes related to the Vatican's 350 million euro ($400 million) purchase of a luxury building in London, resumed after a break of more than a month. All have denied wrongdoing.

Lawyers for Cardinal Angelo Becciu on Tuesday contested the methods used by the prosecution when they questioned Monsignor Alberto Perlasca, a former Vatican official who was first a suspect and now a star witness.

Becciu "did not wish to listen to the contents of the dialogue," defence lawyer Maria Concetta Marzo told the proceeding. She explained that he was not attending for the first time since the trial began in July because his morality should not be questioned and he had already denied the rumours.

A co-defendant, Cecilia Marogna, 42, worked for Becciu, 73, when he was the deputy secretary of state. She is charged with embezzlement, and he is charged with embezzlement, abuse of office and inducing a witness to perjury.

His lawyers said that a recording of Perlasca's questioning contained the prosecution prodding him insistently about rumours of a possible "intimate" relationship between Becciu and Marogna. Perlasca told them he had not heard of it.

Marzo said the exchange was missing from the transcription. She asked that the questioning be stricken from the record, a request the court is expected to rule on at the next session, on Feb. 18.

Marogna received 575,000 euros from the Secretariat of State, the Vatican's most important department, in 2018-2019 when Becciu was working there.

She has said that the money, sent to her company in Slovenia, was to ransom kidnapped missionaries in Africa. But the indictment request said much of it was used for "personal benefit", including the purchase of luxury goods.

Four of 10 defendants were temporarily removed from the indictment in October after the court president found fault with the original investigation.

He ordered the prosecution to go back and question the four again because procedural steps designed to protect the defendants was not followed originally.

They were effectively re-indicted on Tuesday after the prosecution presented the court with seven volumes of additional material, prosecutor Alessandro Diddi told reporters on the sidelines of the hearing.

Pope Francis fired Becciu from another senior clerical post in 2020 for alleged nepotism, an accusation he also denies.

(Reporting by Philip Pullella; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)

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