Saturday 19 January 2019

Ex-Vatican hospital chief convicted over cash used to refurbish cardinal's flat

The Bambino Gesu children's hospital in Rome (AP)
The Bambino Gesu children's hospital in Rome (AP)

A Vatican court has convicted the former president of the Pope's children's hospital of diverting around £378,000 in donations to renovate a cardinal's flat.

The original charges against Giuseppe Profiti had been embezzlement, but the court convicted him of a lesser offence of abuse of office after the defence argued the money was intended as an investment to benefit the hospital.

Profiti was given a one-year suspended sentence.

The three-judge tribunal cleared Bambino Gesu Paediatric Hospital's former hospital treasurer, Massimo Spina.

Notably, neither the cardinal who benefited from the renovation nor the contractor who was apparently paid twice for doing the work was charged.

More than anything, the trial exposed how Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Vatican's former secretary of state, bent rules to get his retirement apartment ready after Pope Francis was elected in 2013 and named a new secretary of state.

It also revealed the "opacity, silence and poor management" in the handling of Vatican assets, prosecutor Roberto Zanotti said in his closing statements.

A lack of financial transparency and accountability has bedevilled the Holy See for centuries and has been a top concern for Francis' reform-minded papacy.

In addition, the trial shined further light on Bambino Gesu hospital, which was the subject of an Associated Press investigation earlier this year.

The news agency uncovered a secret 2014 Vatican-authorised probe that found that the hospital's mission under the Profiti administration had become "more aimed at profit" than patient care.

After retiring in 2013, Cardinal Bertone was assigned a 4,305 sq ft top-floor bachelor pad in the Vatican-owned Palazzo San Carlo, which sits on the edge of the Vatican gardens and offers fabulous views of St Peter's Basilica and overlooks the hotel where Francis lives.

During the trial, Cardinal Bertone was shown to have personally engineered the unprecedented manoeuvre to get an old friend, Gianantonio Bandera, to do the renovation.

Cardinal Bertone's project jumped the queue for Vatican property repairs and avoided the normal external bidding process required for such an expensive overhaul - presumably because he promised to foot the bill himself.

And Cardinal Bertone did pay some 300,000 euros (£269,000) out of his own pocket.

The problem is the hospital foundation also paid Mr Bandera's firm 422,000 euro for a job that totalled 533,000 euro, including communal repairs to the palazzo's leaky roof.

In closing arguments on Saturday, Profiti's lawyer Antonello Blasi insisted there was no crime in using foundation money as an investment since Profiti intended to use Cardinal Bertone's apartment for fund-raising events for the hospital.

"Investing is not the same thing as spending," Mr Blasi told the court.

Profiti, for his part, told the court the only reason the operation did not return the investment was because the new administration that replaced his had a "new style of fund raising" and did not use the apartment.

Prosecutors did not dispute the investment motive for Profiti's actions.

In the end, Mr Bandera's firm, Castelli Re, went bankrupt, and the hospital's 422,000 euro were sent instead to another Bandera company located in Britain, Lg Contractors.

That was presumably the transaction that tripped up the Vatican's financial regulators, who were called to give evidence at trial but declined to provide details, citing the need to keep their intelligence-gathering operations secret.

The only hint of a potential pay-off involved a proposed six-figure "donation" from Mr Bandera to the hospital foundation.

Profiti said he "didn't exclude" that he had sought such a donation, and Mr Spina said he tried to get the money out of Mr Bandera.

Mr Bandera, however, pleaded financial hardship after his company went bankrupt and never paid up.

Neither Cardinal Bertone nor Mr Bandera were indicted in the case, though it is possible prosecutors in the Vatican and Italy now have the evidence they need to mount a case against the builder over the allegation he was paid twice for the same work.

At the trial, Mr Bandera said he never billed twice for the works, though acknowledged he was no longer fully in control of the company after it went bankrupt in early 2014.

Cardinal Bertone has insisted he knew nothing of the hospital's payment.

After the scandal came to light in late 2015, he quickly made a 150,000 euro (£134,000) "donation" to the hospital, insisting it was not a payback but a gesture of goodwill.


Press Association

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox every morning.

Editors Choice

Also in World News