By Philip Pullella
VATICAN CITY (Reuters) -The defence at a Vatican corruption trial failed definitively on Tuesday to have charges against their clients dropped and the judge ordered it to begin in earnest with the questioning of a cardinal.
Court President Giuseppe Pignatone issued a slew of rejections of defence motions and objections that had built up during the previous eight hearings of the trial, which began in July.
It took Pignatone and an assistant judge bout 90 minutes to read the 40-page decision, explaining Pignatone’s reasons for rejecting the some two dozen defence motions.
Pignatone ordered the trial to resume on March 17 with the questioning of Cardinal Angelo Becciu. He will be the first defendant to testify at the trial, which has been bogged down in preliminary arguments since the start.
The trial’s 10 defendants are accused of fraud, extortion, money laundering, embezzlement and other crimes, mostly revolving around the Vatican’s 350 million euro ($400 million) purchase of a luxury building in London.
They all deny wrongdoing.
Becciu, a former deputy secretary of state, was sacked by Pope Francis for alleged nepotism before the trial began.
The judge ordered the trial to resume on March 17, when Becciu will be questioned about charges that he helped steer Church contracts to organisations run by his family on their native island of Sardinia.
He and the other defendants will be questioned about other charges at future hearings.
“Finally the moment of truth has arrived. I have been waiting for seven months and now I can talk. I am happy. I am ready to answer,” Becciu told reporters in the court.
A co-defendant, Cecilia Marogna, 42, worked for Becciu, 73,
when he was in his Vatican post and is charged with embezzlement.
Marogna received 575,000 euros ($640,000) from the Secretariat of State in 2018-2019 when Becciu was working there.
A self-styled secret agent, she has said she needed the money to ransom kidnapped missionaries in Africa.
But the 600-page indictment filed in July said much of it was used for “personal benefit”, including the purchase of luxury goods.
At Tuesday’s hearing her lawyer said she could not testify without clearance from the Vatican, Italian intelligence services and NATO.
A surprised Pignatone laughed. He said his court had no relations with NATO, and added that the alliance was “busy with other things” now, a reference to the West’s standoff with Russia over the invasion of Ukraine.
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(Reporting by Philip PullellaEditing by Raissa Kasolowsky)