Australian police probe Vatican cash transfer in Pell case

Sydney (AFP) –


Australian police are investigating allegations a large amount of money was transferred to Australia by a Vatican rival of Cardinal George Pell in an apparent bid to help convict him of child sex abuse.

An Italian newspaper earlier reported that 700,000 euros (US$830,000) was transferred to Australia to secure witnesses against Pell in his criminal trial.

An Australian Federal Police spokeswoman said aspects related to the allegations had also been referred to the anti-corruption watchdog in the state of Victoria, where Pell worked, without elaborating.

Italian broadsheet Corriere della Sera reported this month that Pell's Vatican rival Giovanni Angelo Becciu was allegedly behind a plot to smear the Australian cardinal.

Becciu -- who was forced to resign by the pope last month following accusations of embezzlement and nepotism -- vehemently denied the claim.

It was not clear from the report who may have benefited from the alleged payments.

The boss of Australia's financial intelligence agency AUSTRAC recently confirmed the organisation had also looked into the claims and handed information on to police.

"I can confirm AUSTRAC has looked into the matter and we've provided information to the AFP (Australian Federal Police) and to Victoria Police," AUSTRAC chief executive Nicole Rose told a Senate committee in Canberra.

Police were now "undertaking a review" of information given to them by the agency, an Australian Federal Police spokeswoman told AFP on Wednesday.

Pell was convicted in December 2018 of sexually abusing two choirboys when he was the archbishop of Melbourne.

He strenuously denied the charges and the High Court in Australia overturned his conviction in April this year after hearing his second appeal.

The cardinal is still facing a civil suit brought by the father of one choirboy who died in 2014.