Woman close to Vatican cardinal arrested in corruption probe

FILE - In this Sept. 25, 2020 Cardinal Angelo Becciu talks to journalists during a press conference in Rome. Italys financial police said Wednesday, Oct. 14, 2020 that a Sardinian woman, Cecilia Marogna, said to be close to one of the Holy Sees most powerful cardinals, Becciu, before his downfall, was arrested in Milan, northern Italy, late Tuesday on an international warrant issued by the Vatican City State. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia, file) (Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

VATICAN CITY – The Vatican's latest corruption scandal already had all the elements of a spy thriller: One cardinal who was fired during a “surreal" nighttime audience with the pope. Another cardinal, the nemesis of the first, who returned triumphantly to Rome after being acquitted of sexual abuse in Australia. And a fabulous luxury apartment building in London where the Holy See sank tens of millions of euros in donations from the faithful.

All that was missing was the mysterious woman who claimed to have links to the Italian secret services, and allegedly hoodwinked them all. Enter Cecilia Marogna, a 39-year-old political consultant who was arrested Tuesday in Milan on an international warrant issued by the Vatican, Italy's financial police confirmed Wednesday.

Vatican prosecutors have accused Marogna of embezzling some 500,000 euros ($590,000) in Vatican money for intelligence consulting she never really performed, working out of a Slovenian front company and using at least half the money instead to buy merchandise from Prada, Chanel and other fancy brands, Italian news reports said.

According to Vatican documents published in Italian newspapers and shown on investigative television shows this week, Cardinal Angelo Becciu, the onetime No. 2 in the Vatican secretariat of state, wired the funds to Marogna’s Logsic firm, purportedly for humanitarian operations in Africa and Asia.

Marogna has told Italian media she was a political analyst and intelligence expert who reached out to Becciu in 2015 with concerns about security for Vatican embassies in hot spots and was quickly brought into the cardinal’s inner circle.

Marogna told Corriere della Sera that over four years, Becciu wired her 500,000 euros as compensation, travel reimbursements and consultancy fees after she pitched herself as having “a network of relationships in Africa and the Middle East to protect nunciatures and missions from environmental and terrorist risks."

She defended some luxury expenditures — designer pocketbooks for example — as being “maybe for the wife of a Nigerian friend who was in a position to talk to the president of Burkina Faso.”

Becciu, who was sacked by Pope Francis last month after admitting he sent 100,000 euros in Vatican money to a charity headed by his brother, has insisted that his dealings with Marogna were legitimate.