Defense in Vatican financial lawsuit demands to see Pope’s testimony
VATICAN CITY (RNS) – Lawyers defending those accused of defrauding the Vatican in $ 400 million real estate investment asked judges on Wednesday (November 17) to release written transcripts of Pope Francis’ statements on the deal, alleging that prosecutors used the pontiff’s statements may have influenced another witness in the case.
Since the start of the trial in July, lawyers for the 10 defendants in this case have complained that the evidence, including 53 DVDs of interrogations and wiretaps, collected by investigators has not been turned over to the defense. In earlier proceedings, Vatican judges ordered all material to be turned over by November 3 while dismissing other parts of prosecutors’ case file.
On Wednesday, the defense said Vatican prosecutors had not released a transcript of investigators’ interview with Francis, who in December 2018 had a brief meeting at the Vatican with Gianluigi Torzi, the Italian broker who assisted the Vatican to finalize the purchase of a luxury in London. apartment building. The deal ultimately cost the Vatican some $ 200 million after Torzi allegedly blamed the church for its stake in the company that owns the property.
A month earlier, Monsignor Alberto Perlasca, a former official of the Vatican Secretariat of State, had met Torzi in London to sign two contracts with him. According to prosecutors, the documents were signed “before the matter was brought to the attention of the Secretary of State and the Holy Father.”
The contracts gave Torzi 1,000 voting shares in the fund that owned the property. He then asked the Vatican to pay him around $ 17 million to renounce the actions, an act which Vatican prosecutors are now calling extortion.
Initially a suspect in the investigation, Perlasca later offered himself as a witness, but prosecutors did not clarify his role in the trial.
While questioning Perlasca about the contracts he signed and the Pope’s meeting with Torzi prosecutors referred to their interview with Francis, according to the defense. In a recording of Perlasca’s interrogation that the defense played in court, the Vatican prosecutor can be heard saying that they “went to the Holy Father and asked him what had happened.”
“Monsignor Perlasca was confronted with the declarations of the Holy Father,” said Luigi Pannella, lawyer for Enrico Crasso, a defendant who managed a significant part of the Vatican’s financial portfolio and is accused of money laundering, extortion and of corruption.
According to Pannella, the mention of the pope’s declaration led Perlasca, who “is a priest and bound to the Holy Father in a sacred relationship of obedience and subordination”, to change his testimony. Lifting his laptop showing the recording above his head, the lawyer told judges Perlasca’s face showed “supreme concertation” and “shock” upon hearing that his testimony differed from that of the Pope.
Vatican prosecutor Alessandro Diddi denied that the pope’s words had any effect on the case or Perlasca. “This office never heard from the Holy Father officially,” Diddi said, saying the Monsignor was not shocked at the prospect of what the Pope had said, but “instead, he turned pale when this office was able to refute his statement through documents.
The prosecutor added that some of the elements requested by the defense are still missing because they are part of ongoing investigations unrelated to the trial.
But since Francis was mentioned in Perlasca’s interrogation, the defense teams insisted that the transcript of the Pope’s comments be added to the evidence. “The fact that these statements by the Holy Father are not included in the data violates the rights of the defense,” said Panella.
Throughout the trial, defense attorneys have attempted to take advantage of the prosecution’s withholding of evidence and what they say is a lack of due process, with some likening the trial to a kangaroo court.
The lawsuit is a key turning point in Francis’ attempts to clean up the Vatican’s finances and introduce transparency standards for businesses. It is also the first time in memory that a cardinal of the church has been tried. Cardinal Angelo Becciu, once the third Vatican prelate, is accused of corruption, money laundering and mismanagement of the institution’s funds, including those collected for the pope’s charities.
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Becciu’s attorney, Fabio Viglione, initially led the prosecution in Wednesday’s proceedings, saying the evidence provided by prosecutors was incomplete and, in some ways, redacted. Viglione called the omissions “mutilation of the evidence”.
“The problem here remains the same,” Viglione said. “We want to defend ourselves and we want all the data and what we need to establish an effective defense.” According to the lawyer, the persistent reluctance of prosecutors to waive all the evidence implies the “irreparable nullity” of the trial.
Vatican judges decided to take the time to consider the demands of defense lawyers and adjourned the trial to December 1.
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