By Giselda Vagnoni
ROME (Reuters) - The thwarted takeover of a troubled Italian bank in 2018 will come into focus in a forthcoming Vatican trial that is tied to Pope Francis's efforts to clean up Holy See finances after decades of scandals.
Weakened by mismanagement and bad loans, Carige bank was placed under special administration by the European Central Bank in early 2019 after a failed attempt led by one of its main shareholders, Raffaele Mincione, to take control.
Vatican prosecutors allege that Mincione bought a stake in Carige with embezzled money including funds raised from faithful Catholics and intended for the needy.
They have indicted him and another nine people including a prominent Cardinal Angelo Becciu over a multi-million-euro scandal that also involves the Vatican's purchase of a building in one of London's smartest districts.
The trial is due to begin on July 27. The defendants are all free pending the opening of the case.
Mincione, who lives in London, has consistently denied wrongdoing. His Italian lawyer Luigi Giuliano declined to comment, saying "he wants to prepare the defence arguments in the utmost confidentiality" ahead of the trial.
The former Carige shareholder resigned from the lender's board in September 2018. Two months later, Mincione sold the London property to the Vatican in a deal negotiated by another Italian middleman, Gianluigi Torzi, who also faces trial.
Torzi has denied any wrongdoing, as has Becciu.
Prosecutors believe the Vatican paid over 350 million euros ($410 million) for the building, including debt, which had been acquired by Mincione for 129 million pounds ($177.66 million) just a few years before.
As evidence of alleged criminal intent, prosecutors say Mincione used part of 40 million pounds of Vatican money to repay a loan from Torzi for the failed bid to take control of Carige’s board.
"Until now, the sources available for public consultation have never hinted that Mincione had financed the takeover of Carige with funds from the (Catholic Church)," prosecutors said in their 487-page charge sheet released earlier this month.
The two brokers are accused of embezzlement, fraud and money laundering. Torzi is also charged with extortion.
Both men have said the sale of the London building was unconnected to the loan for Carige.
Torzi's lawyer Ambra Giovene told Reuters prosecutors had yet to prove that part of the 40-million-pound loan was transferred by Mincione to her client, and stressed there was no link between the two deals.
Carige declined to comment.
($1 = 0.7261 pounds)
(Reporting by Giselda Vagnoni; Editing by Crispian Balmer and Mark Heinrich)