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Cardinal on trial taped call with Pope Francis

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Vatican City (AFP) – A senior cardinal on trial for fraud has secretly recorded a conversation with Pope Francis asking the pope to confirm that he had authorized some secret financial transactions, it emerged Friday.

The existence of the recording, made in July 2021 just days before the trial of Cardinal Angelo Becciu began, emerged during a hearing on Thursday and a transcript was later published by Italian media.

Becciu, once a close advisor to Pope Francis, was removed from office and stripped of his cardinal privileges in September 2020 amid a scandal over the Vatican’s loss-making purchase of a luxury London property and misuse of church funds.

Becciu, along with nine other defendants, stood trial in July last year on charges ranging from fraud to money laundering and extortion. Becciu strongly denies wrongdoing.

Among the defendants is Cecilia Marogna, a woman hired by Becciu as a security adviser, accused of mis-spending 575,000 euros ($667,000) she received from the Vatican, allegedly intended for the release of imprisoned priests and nuns abroad.

In the phone call with the pope on July 24, 2021 — 10 days after Francis left hospital following colon surgery — the cardinal asked the pope to confirm that he had approved a plan to release funds for the release of a Colombian nun detained in Mali.

“Did you or did you not give me permission to start the operations to free the nun?” Becciu asks in the conversation, according to the transcript published by Italian media.

“Before the ransom we set at 500,000, we said nothing more because it seemed immoral to give more money… that would go into the pockets of the terrorists… I think I informed you about this… do you remember?”

According to the transcript, the pope said he remembered it “vaguely,” but asked Becciu to put his request in writing.

The conversation was recorded at Becciu’s apartment by one of his relatives, on a speakerphone, the court heard.

The nun, who was taken hostage by al-Qaeda-affiliated jihadists in 2017, was released in Mali in October 2021.

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