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Lawyers 'surprised' by Vatican prosecution's request at fraud trial

10 individuals and entities face charges ranging from embezzlement to money laundering and abuse of office

Junno Arocho Esteves, Catholic News Service

Junno Arocho Esteves, Catholic News Service

Published: October 06, 2021 06:00 AM GMT

Updated: October 06, 2021 06:07 AM GMT

Lawyers 'surprised' by Vatican prosecution's request at fraud trial

The judges of the Vatican City State criminal court face dozens of lawyers in a makeshift Vatican courtroom on July 27. (Photo: AFP)

A request by Vatican prosecutors to withdraw testimony in a megatrial regarding financial malfeasance prompted defense lawyers to call for the case to be thrown out.

At the second session of the Vatican trial involving alleged embezzlement, money laundering and abuse of office, Vatican deputy prosecutor Alessandro Diddi said that his office decided to make the "surprise" request after "a long period of reflection."

He asked the court on Oct. 5 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.

Diddi said the request was made in part to address the concerns of the defense after the prosecution refused to release the video testimony of their star witness, Msgr. Alberto Perlasca, as well as the prosecution's failure to hand over digital and computer files related to the accusations.

Addressing the court, Diddi also criticized press coverage of the trial, which, he said, questioned the objectivity and fairness of the Vatican court and prosecutors.

"We have always acted and interpreted the norms of the criminal court in protecting the rights" of the accused, he said.

One by one, each lawyer opposed Diddi's request and called on the court to dismiss the case

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, including Cardinal Angelo Becciu, 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 Fabrizio Tirabassi, a former official at the Secretariat of State accused of corruption, extortion, embezzlement, fraud and abuse of office.

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.

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He also called into question the prosecution's refusal to give defense lawyers a video copy of the testimony given by Msgr. Perlasca, the former head of the Secretariat of State's administrative office.

At the trial's first session on July 27, lawyers had argued that while they had received summary transcripts of Msgr. Perlasca's testimony, the documents were missing information and they had yet to receive audio and video recordings of the testimony.

Responding to the lawyer's argument, Diddi had said there was "no problem" in handing over Msgr. Perlasca's testimony. Vatican judges ordered the prosecution to provide the video tapes to defense lawyers by Aug. 10.

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.

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.

Diddi said it wasn't easy to gather the requested materials, which include some 300 DVDs and other digital files

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.

Pignatone said he and his fellow judges, Venerando Marano and Carlo Bonzano, would deliberate and issue a decision Oct. 6.

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