Vatican court hears cardinal's secretly taped phone call with pope

By Philip Pullella
VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - A court in a corruption trial at the Vatican overheard a secretly recorded telephone conversation between the main accused, embattled Cardinal Angelo Becciu, and Pope Francis on Thursday.
The recording was made, unbeknownst to the pope, by someone in a room with Becciu in July 2021, just before the trial began and while the pope was still recovering from major bowel surgery, the court was told.
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Reporters were asked to leave the room while the tape was playing, but lawyers who heard it said Becciu asked the pope to confirm that the pope had approved a payment to help in the release of a nun kidnapped in Africa to help.
Lawyers said that when the pope called, he appeared perplexed and confused as to why Becciu was calling and that the pope repeatedly asked the cardinal to send him a written note of what he wanted.
In 2018, Becciu, then the third most powerful person in the Vatican, hired co-defendant Cecilia Marogna, a self-proclaimed security analyst, to rescue a Colombian nun kidnapped in Mali by an al-Qaeda-affiliated group.
Marogna, 44, received €575,000 from the Secretariat of State, the Vatican's main department, in 2018-2019 when Becciu was working there. The money was transferred to a company she founded in Slovenia and I received part of it in cash, the court said.
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Police discovered that Marogna had spent much of the money on personal uses, including luxury branded clothing and visits to health spas.
She is charged with embezzlement and Becciu is substituted for embezzlement, corruption and abuse of office. Like the other eight defendants, they have denied any wrongdoing.
The trial's chief prosecutor, Alessandro Diddi, told reporters on Thursday that he had started a new direction in his investigation, in which he suspected Becciu of a criminal conspiracy. He said he has filed the details with the court.
Beccius' lawyers said in a statement they were not aware of any new allegations. The secretly recorded phone call was not commented on in the statement.
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A year before the trial began, Francis dismissed Becciu on suspicion of nepotism. Becciu denies doing anything to help his family financially.
On Thursday, Becciu faced his chief accuser, his former chief aide Monsignor Alberto Perlasca. He told the court how he was ordered to pay what he thought was unusual.
He said he sent €100,000 to a charity in Sardinia without knowing at the time that it was linked to Beccius' family.
Becciu said the charity helped create jobs in a poor area.
The trial revolves around the Foreign Office's purchase of a building in London. The 10 accused include former Vatican employees and Italian middlemen who prosecutors say they blackmailed the Vatican.
($1 = 0.9605 euros)
(Reporting by Philip Pullella; Editing by Jonathan Oatis)
Pope Francis
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