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Giuseppe Profiti (2nd R) and Massimo Spina (R), respectively the former president and treasurer of the Bambino Gesu hospital in Rome, are seen in the Vatican Tribunal during verdict in the trial where they are accused of diverting nearly half a million dollars to renovate the apartment of top cardinal in Vatican, October 14, 2017. Osservatore Romano/Handout via REUTERS

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By Philip Pullella

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - The former president of a Vatican-owned hospital in Rome on Saturday was convicted of abuse of office for diverting nearly half a million dollars of funds to renovate a top cardinal's luxury apartment.

The Vatican court, a three-judge panel, gave Giuseppe Profiti a one-year suspended sentence. The prosecution had asked for three years for the former head of the prestigious Bambino Gesu hospital.

It also reduced the seriousness of the charge against Profiti to abuse of office from the initial embezzlement. Massimo Spina, the hospital's treasurer, was acquitted.

Testimony at the trial, which began in July in the city-state's courtroom, again exposed lack of transparency in the financial handling of Vatican assets in Italy, where it owns numerous institutions and much real estate.

Profiti and Spina were charged with spending 422,000 euros ($481,000) in 2013 and 2014 on refurbishing the large Vatican retirement home of Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Holy See's former number two.

His retirement apartment, which has a huge terrace and breath-taking view of the dome of St. Peter's Basilica, has become a symbol of the difficulty of the frugal-minded pope's efforts to rein in the luxury some Church leaders still enjoy.

Bertone, 82, was the Vatican secretary of state, effectively the deputy pope, for most of the pontificate of former Pope Benedict and was one of the most powerful men in the Roman Catholic Church.

He was removed from office in 2013, eight months after the election of Francis. The renovation started a few weeks later on the spacious property, which is next door to the Vatican guest house where the pope lives in a modest suite.

Bertone hired the construction firm of a friend to do the reconstruction work, bypassing the customary bidding process, and made a down payment with his own money.

The company eventually went bankrupt but the foundation that runs the hospital sent 422,000 euros to a London-based company affiliated with the construction firm.

Neither Bertone nor the owner of the construction company were called to testify at the trial.

When the Vatican confirmed last year that Profiti and Spina were under investigation, a lawyer for Bertone said the cardinal had never asked for or authorised payment for the restoration work from hospital funds.

Profiti said the hospital used some of its funds to renovate Bertone's apartment because the cardinal had agreed that it could be used for fundraising.

After the scandal was first revealed in a book, Bertone gave 150,000 euros of his own money to the Bambino Gesu to make amends for damage done to the hospital's image.

(Reporting By Philip Pullella; Editing by Ros Russell)

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