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ROME (ChurchMilitant.com) - The lawyer defending senior Australian prelate Cdl. George Pell is calling for an investigation into claims that bribery was employed to sway the outcome of the sex-abuse case against his client.
Robert Richter QC (Queen's Counsel), defense attorney for the former archbishop of Sydney, says an international inquiry should be launched into allegations that bribes were paid to influence the sexual-assault case against his client. On Friday, Italian media reported that Cdl. Giovanni Angelo Becciu is being accused of wiring more than $800,000 in Vatican funds to bribe witnesses in order to lock up the case against Cdl. George Pell.
"They are concerning allegations and require thorough investigation of the money trail, wherever that may be," Richter told Guardian Australia.
The lawyer declared it was obligatory that both Australian and international authorities investigate the allegations.
Italian newspapers La Repúbblica and Corriere della Sera reported on Vatican prosecutors' suspicions that Becciu used the money to upend Pell's attempt to clean up Vatican finances and make them more transparent. The funds were transferred to Australia after Pell returned in 2017 to face sexual abuse charges.
Becciu denied the reports. "I categorically deny interfering in any way in the trial of Cdl. Pell," he said.
The Vatican service of both prelates overlapped for a number of years.
Becciu served as the Vatican deputy secretary of state from 2011–2018. During his time as deputy, he oversaw the controversial multimillion-dollar investment in a luxury property in London. The money was taken from Peter's Pence, the pope's annual collection, which is meant to be used for the Holy See's charitable projects around the world. The investment lost money for the Vatican while "making millions for consultants," Corriere della Sera reported Oct. 4.
The cardinal is also accused of funneling millions of dollars to businesses run by his brothers.
Pell served as the Vatican secretariat for the economy from 2014–2017. As the chief officer, he was responsible for cleaning up Church finances. His efforts were opposed by Becciu. In 2016 when Pell ordered an independent audit of Vatican finances, Becciu blocked the audit.
When Pell completed his tenure as chief financial officer and returned to Australia in 2017, he was confronted by accusations that he molested two choir boys in Melbourne in the 1990s. Though many observers saw the accusations as trumped up, the cardinal was tried and jailed — but eventually acquitted on appeal in April.
Pell has always maintained his innocence, alleging he had suffered a "serious injustice."
Shortly after his release from jail, Pell said he thought Witness J had been “used” by his enemies, according to Associated Press on Monday. The Australian cardinal suspected his prosecution was connected to his fight against financial corruption in the Vatican, although he said he had no evidence at that point.
In the midst of the scandal, Pope Francis accepted Becciu's resignation on Sept. 24, and deprived him of "the rights and duties of a cardinal." The Italian cardinal resigned last month amid the corruption claims, saying he had been asked to step aside.
Becciu continues to deny the allegations.
"I'm convinced it's all a hoax," he said recently. "And the more I think back to the accusations that have been leveled at me, the less I understand where I went wrong. And, if I was wrong, what would be the seriousness of the facts that would justify the measure taken against me by the Holy Father."
"I was treated as the worst of pedophiles, pilloried by the media around the world," he bewailed.
Becciu is known to have used journalists and other sources to discredit his enemies in recent years.
Australian media is weighing in on the scandal.
The Sydney Morning Herald quoted lawyer Viv Waller, who represents one of Cdl. Pell's accusers: "My client denies any knowledge or receipt of any payments."
"He won't be commenting further in response to these allegations," Waller said.