VATICAN CITY (VATICAN CITY)
Catholic Review - Archdiocese of Baltimore [Baltimore MD]
October 6, 2021
By Junno Arocho Esteves, Catholic News Service
A Vatican court ruled that prosecutors must hand over video of the deposition of their main witness to lawyers representing 10 defendants, including Cardinal Angelo Becciu, who are all on trial on charges related to financial malfeasance and corruption.
At the third session of the Vatican trial Oct. 6, Giuseppe Pignatone, president of the Vatican City State criminal court, ordered Vatican prosecutors to deliver the video and audio testimony of Msgr. Alberto Perlasca, the former head of the Secretariat of State’s administrative office, by Nov. 3.
However, while the court agreed with defense lawyers that some procedures were not properly followed by investigators for the prosecution, Pignatone denied the defense’s request to annul the 488-page indictment, which would have thrown out the case.
Pignatone said the court would reconvene Nov. 17 to determine how and when the trial will proceed.
The Vatican court’s decision effectively gives the prosecution time to further refine their investigation.
At the trial’s session a day earlier, Vatican deputy prosecutor Alessandro Diddi asked the court to order defense lawyers to return all the court documents regarding allegations against their clients and allow the prosecution to begin interrogating the witnesses all over again.
Pignatone partially agreed with the prosecution’s request, ordering lawyers to return court documents pertaining to several defendants, including: Cardinal Becciu; Msgr. Mauro Carlino, the former secretary of then-Archbishop Becciu when he served as “sostituto,” the No. 3 position in the Vatican Secretariat of State; and Fabrizio Tirabassi, a former official at the Secretariat of State accused of corruption, extortion, embezzlement, fraud and abuse of office; as well as several others.
Fabio Viglione, Cardinal Becciu’s lawyer, told journalists after the session Oct. 6 that the court’s ruling was an acknowledgment that the prosecution’s case “was not ready for trial.”
“We objected to not having at our disposal a series of documents such as the entirety of the interrogations” rather than the “little summaries” of the depositions released by the prosecution, Viglione said.
The release of the video and audio of Msgr. Perlasca’s testimony, he added, was important to allow “the accused their rights” to defend themselves.
Gian Domenico Caiazza, the lawyer representing London-based Italian financier Raffaele Mincione, the owner of the London property, told journalists that the Vatican court’s ruling was “an important decision that substantially accepts all the objections we made.”
During the session Oct. 5, Diddi said the prosecution’s request to essentially start their investigation over again was made in part to address concerns after the prosecution refused to release Msgr. Perlasca’s video testimony and failed to hand over digital and computer files related to the accusations to defense lawyers.
Clouds and pouring rain over Vatican City provided an apt backdrop to the storm brewing within the Vatican courtroom as lawyers for the 10 defendants balked at the prosecution’s request; some of the defense lawyers described the move as an attempt to hamper their clients’ rights to a fair trial.
One by one, each lawyer opposed Diddi’s request and called on the court to dismiss the case.
Among the most vocal was Massimo Bassi, a lawyer representing Tirabassi.
Addressing the court, Bassi said the request to return documents pertaining to the case was “inadmissible” and “was another example” of the prosecution’s attempt to change its interpretation of the Vatican’s penal code.
He also called into question the prosecution’s refusal to give defense lawyers a video copy of the testimony given by Msgr. Perlasca.
Msgr. Perlasca was initially seen as a possible suspect after Vatican police seized documents, computers and even floppy disks from his home and office in 2020.
At the session Oct. 6, Pignatone also ordered prosecutors to clarify whether Msgr. Perlasca is a witness or a suspect under investigation.
According to the trial indictment, Msgr. Perlasca requested to speak to investigators and provided them “with a precious contribution for the reconstruction of some central moments relating to the case of the London property,” referring to a property investment that ended up costing the Vatican millions. The monsignor’s “contribution” turned him from suspect into star witness.
Vatican prosecutors asked the judges to revoke the order to hand over the video, arguing that releasing it to defense lawyers would cause “potential serious and irreparable damage to the rights of the persons who participated in the proceedings.”
After defense lawyers argued against his request, Diddi told the court that the prosecution “never said that we didn’t want to give the video,” but asked for ways to protect “the privacy of third parties” involved in the interrogation.
Regarding complaints that the prosecution failed to hand over evidence to defense lawyers, Diddi said it “wasn’t easy to gather the requested materials,” which include some 300 DVDs and other digital files.
However, Giuseppe Pignatone, president of the Vatican City State criminal court, questioned why prosecutors included evidence that they were incapable of providing to defense lawyers, “who have the right to obtain a copy.”
“We made a mistake,” Diddi acknowledged.