Becciu Payments to Australian Tech Company for Domain Name Registration

Payments from the Vatican Secretariat of State to the Australian office of a technology security firm could have been used to register a top-level domain name, according to a report by Italian media.

But that possibility raises questions about why Cardinal Angelo Becciu previously described payments to the company as ‘confidential’ and why a key witness in the current Vatican financial lawsuit allegedly told prosecutors the payments were intended to the legal defense of Cardinal George Pell.

Cardinal Angelo Becciu. Credit: Claude Truong-Ngoc / Wikimedia Commons – cc-by-sa-4.0

The payments, described as “classified” by Cardinal Angelo Becciu, have been the focus of years of speculation, as they coincided with the lawsuits and trial of Cardinal George Pell.

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A report published by the Italian edition of the Daily Compass site claims that the payments from the Secretary of State, totaling more than 2 million Australian dollars, were intended for the registration of the “.catholic” top-level domain by the Pontifical Council for social communication.

Daily Compass cites a 2012 letter from the secretary of the Australian episcopal conference to the former secretary of the Vatican’s communications office, offering “support” for the Vatican’s plan to “acquire the generic top-level domain”, which was filed with ICANN, the US-based international organization responsible for Internet domain names and registration.

Similar letters have been filed by the Episcopal Conferences of Italy and the United States, and the Secretariat of State, according to a domain registration application file reviewed by The pillar.

The application package also lists a wholly owned subsidiary of AusRegistry Pty Ltd as a service provider at the time of application. AusRegistry was also the registry operator and wholesale provider for all commercial “.au” domain names, as well as non-commercial Australian domains such as “.gov.au” and “.edu.au”.

AusRegistry’s own parent company, Bombora Technologies, was acquired by Neustar, a technology and security company, in 2015. Neustar has been listed separately in court documents related to an ongoing federal investigation into allegations of Russian interference in the 2016 US presidential election.

Between 2016 and 2017, the Secretary of State sent wire transfers amounting to over A$2 million to Neustar’s office in Melbourne. The Daily Compass report suggests that these funds were used to cover maintenance expenses for the .catholic domain in English and Chinese, although ICANN’s filings for the domain do not include specific receipts or other documentation. which would confirm this possibility.

Although the .catholic top-level domain does not appear to host any sites, it is possible that the Holy See acquired the domain to prevent others from using it to host material claiming to be from an official Catholic source. ‘Church, especially in Chinese.

The pillar reported last year that Becciu personally authorized two payments sent to Australia and approved the other two during his tenure as sostituto at the Vatican Secretariat of State.

The cardinal was promoted from that position in June 2018, appointed prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, before being forced to resign in disgrace by Pope Francis in September 2020. Vatican prosecutors subsequently filed charges of embezzlement, abuse of power, conspiracy. , and tampering with witnesses, against Becciu, for which he is currently on trial.

In the weeks following Becciu’s resignation, speculation swirled in the Italian press that the payments to Neustar might be linked in some way to the pursuit of Cardinal George Pell, who quit his job. post at the Vatican as head of the Secretariat for the Economy in 2017 to return to Australia to face charges of sexual abuse – charges for which he was first convicted and later exonerated by the country’s High Court .

Pell’s departure to face charges in Melbourne came just weeks after Becciu forced the resignation of Libero Milone, the Vatican’s first independent auditor general and a close colleague of Pell’s. Becciu accused Milone of “spying” on his private financial dealings and threatened him with arrest and prosecution if he refused to leave his post.

In October 2020, the newspaper Corriere della Sera published an article suggesting that payments to Neustar “may have been used to ‘buy off’ the accusers in the pedophile trial against Cardinal George Pell”. Pell’s ultimately overturned conviction was based on the testimony of a single accuser.

In response to Italian media speculation, Becciu has repeatedly and strenuously denied any connection to the allegations against Pell, or any interference in his case. He also repeatedly refused to say what the payments to Neustar were for, saying The pillar last year that they were related to “official activities of the Secretariat of State which, by their nature, are classified and cannot be commented on”.

If the purpose of the payments to Neustar was, as the Daily Compass report suggests, to maintain the .catholic domain, this would raise questions about the necessary application of state secrecy, since registering the domain with the Holy See is a matter of public domain and has been for almost a decade, and has been the subject of reports in the industry press at the time the application was pending.

If true, the payments being linked to the .catholic domain would also raise questions about the apparent testimony of Msgr. Alberto Perlasca to prosecutors during their investigation into the financial affairs of the Secretary of State which led to the current trial.

In December last year, Cardinal Pell noted Becciu’s reluctance to discuss the issue in an interview and referred to testimonies given by Perlasca, who previously headed the administrative office of the Secretariat of State, to Vatican prosecutors.

“[Perlasca] said in questioning that the money was sent to the Australian Bishops’ Conference for my legal defence,” Pell said. “That’s definitely not true. We asked the conference of bishops, they received nothing. We certainly haven’t received anything. So I have a question for Cardinal Becciu: is he just going to tell us why the money was sent? »

Becciu responded to Pell in an open letter published shortly before Christmas, calling Pell’s question “offensive to my personal dignity”, and saying that responding would be “below the dignity of cardinals”.

Instead, Becciu said he would only discuss his relationship with Neustar, which he called “high, demanding and certainly confidential,” in court in his Vatican trial when he responds to the charges. baseless” against him “point by indicating.”

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When Becciu appeared to answer judges’ questions for the first time, in March this year, he discussed allegations that he funneled Church funds to family members – and insisted he was innocent. . However, he declined to comment on allegations directly related to his former role in the Secretariat of State, saying he was unable to discuss sensitive issues due to papal secrecy.

Becciu has not publicly commented on the Daily Compass report, however, it follows the announcement by the Vatican City court on March 30 that Pope Francis had waived the application of papal secrecy in the case of Becciu, releasing him to face further questions from the judges.

Before Pope Francis decided to allow Becciu to face questions without the cover of state secrets, the cardinal was due back in court on April 7. But soon after judges announced the pope had lifted papal secrecy, his lawyers claimed a “scheduling conflict” and delayed Becciu’s next appearance by a month.

The cardinal is now due back in court on May 5.