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Sensemaker: Holy moly

Sensemaker: Holy moly

What just happened

Long stories short

  • At least 15 protestors were shot dead in Khartoum while rallying against Sudan’s military coup.
  • British Columbia declared a state of emergency as floods and landslides in the Canadian province displaced some 18,000 people.
  • Boris Johnson told his backbenchers he “crashed the car” in his handling of former Conservative MP Owen Paterson’s breach of lobbying rules.

Holy moly

Never let it be said that the UK’s Conservative Party had a monopoly on sleaze. A major criminal trial in a court inside the Vatican resumed yesterday. It’s the culmination of a two-year investigation centred on Vatican officials’ investments of €350 million in a luxury London real estate venture.

Three things to know: 

  • Much of the money was from donations from the faithful intended for the poor, an annual collection called Peter’s Pence. The money was controlled by the Secretariat of State, which was led by Cardinal Angelo Becciu.
  • The plan was to realise a healthy return by turning an old warehouse in Chelsea into flats. Instead large sums were lost and the cardinal stands accused among other things of channelling money to his brothers’ businesses in Sardinia.
  • Yesterday the court heard that instructions came “from above” for Vatican officials to use a businessman who made a €10 million fee to broker the deal. Asked if that meant from Pope Francis, a former head of administration in the Vatican’s Secretariat of State said: “Certainly.” 

Becciu, who denies wrongdoing, is the first cardinal to be tried for such serious crimes in over three centuries, and his case has become a test of the Vatican’s openness and its willingness to prosecute its own.

Once a papal candidate himself, Cardinal Becciu effectively acted as Pope Francis’s chief of staff until he was sacked in September when reports of financial irregularities first emerged. The Pope then went one further and, in April, decreed that cardinals accused of crimes could be tried by lay judges – not, as used to be the case, by other cardinals.

A new finance chief, Juan Antonio Guerrero, was put in place. He says the Vatican is now more transparent about its financial affairs. Last week it published details of its holdings: 4,000 properties in Italy and 1,120 in other European countries. One of them is the former Harrods warehouse in Sloane Avenue, in Chelsea, that was bought under Cardinal Becciu in 2014.

Ten people in all have been charged with misused funds, extortion, embezzlement, abuse of office and corruption, but it’s Becciu’s fate that is being most closely watched by the faithful and the Italian press. He says he was the victim of a plot. The next hearing is on 1 December.

belonging identity, society, beliefs, countries

Malcolm X
The Manhattan district attorney said two of the men convicted of Malcolm X’s assassination are expected to be exonerated today. Muhammad Aziz and Khalil Islam each spent more than two decades in prison for the 1965 murder, but there have been doubts about their conviction ever since. The district attorney and lawyers for the two men began a 22-month review of the case prompted by a Netflix documentary about the assassination of the African-American Muslim civil rights leader. The review found that prosecutors, the FBI and the New York Police Department withheld key evidence, which would likely have led to the men’s acquittal.

New things technology, science, engineering

Gaming investigation
Activision, the California video game giant that produced Call of Duty, Candy Crush, and World of Warcraft, has been in turmoil for months. Regulators are investigating the $54 billion company’s handling of alleged sexual assaults and its treatment of women employees. In one case, Bobby Kotick – the company’s longtime chief executive – received an email that accused a senior employee of rape and sexual harassment. He didn’t inform the board of the email. The Wall Street Journal reported that Kotick has his own history of harassment. One of his assistants complained that Kotick had harassed her, threatening in a voicemail to have her killed. He settled the matter out of court.

The 100-year life health, education, living, public poliCY

Mask up
An article in the British Medical Journal concluded that mask-wearing is the single most effective public health measure against Covid. It reduces incidence by 53 per cent, according to the authors’ review of 30 independent studies from around the world. Vaccines are safe, effective, and have saved countless lives. But, as many countries haven’t vaccinated their populations, masks ranked in the review as more effective overall. It’s good news for countries struggling to acquire vaccines, but only a globally equitable distribution of jabs will end the pandemic.

Our planet environment, natural resources, geopolitics

Climate losership
Joe Biden’s administration held the largest offshore oil and gas lease auction in US history yesterday. More than 80 million acres of the Gulf of Mexico was up for sale – an area 2.5 times larger than England. The auction was part of a programme developed and approved under Donald Trump, but it’s still awkward for Biden whose officials tried to position the US as a global climate leader at Cop26 in Glasgow. There will be more lease sales. The Department of Interior estimates it will allow the energy industry to drill for 1.1 billion oil barrels and 4.4 trillion cubic feet of gas in the coming years, meaning the US will be nowhere near phasing out fossil fuels by 2030 as climate scientists urge.

Wealth investment, fairness, prosperity

In the black
Eaton Square is one of the most exclusive streets in London, counting the food writer Nigella Lawson and Chelsea football club’s owner Roman Abramovich among its recent denizens. Now add Leon Black, the US billionaire who has bought the former home of the three-time prime minister Stanley Baldwin. Black resigned from his investment group earlier this year after his business activities were scrutinised in relation to the deceased sex offender Jeffrey Epstein. A report found no evidence of any wrongdoing on Black’s part. He has bought his Eaton Square pad for £21 million, which an unnamed estate agent tells the FT is “not even in the top of the second tier”. Yikes.

Thanks for reading, and do share this around.

Paul Caruana Galizia

Edited and produced by Xavier Greenwood.

Photographs Getty Imags