Vatican megatrial stalls as judge considers request to start afresh

The defense has ‘a right to obtain a copy’ of the evidence, said the president of the Vatican tribunal.

FILE - In this Sept. 25, 2020, file photo, Cardinal Angelo Becciu talks to journalists during a news conference in Rome. Defense lawyers are questioning the very legitimacy of the Vatican tribunal where 10 people are on trial, including Becciu, on finance-related charges, arguing their clients can’t get a fair trial in an absolute monarchy where the pope has already intervened in the case and where prosecutors have failed to turn over key pieces of evidence. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia, File)

VATICAN CITY (RNS) — Concerns over the lack of a fair trial overshadowed the second date of the Vatican’s megatrial on Tuesday (Oct. 5) against 10 employees and clergy members, including Cardinal Angelo Becciu, who are charged with embezzling Vatican funds tied to the 2018 purchase of high-end real estate in London.

Vatican prosecutor Alessandro Diddi made a “surprise” request to withdraw all the material collected during the investigation and to start afresh with new interrogations for each of the defendants. Vatican judge Giuseppe Pignatone adjourned the court and said he would announce his decision Wednesday.

At the heart of the matter was the interrogation of Monsignor Alberto Perlasca, Becciu’s former secretary, who after speaking to Vatican prosecutors as a suspect in April 2020 returned as a witness in the proceedings the following six times.

The interrogations with Perlasca were video recorded, the prosecution said, but the material was not shared with the defense out of concern that some of the sensitive material it contains may be leaked. A transcript of Perlasca’s testimony has already been handed to the defense, but some lawyers claim sections of the interrogation are missing.

The subpoena, viewed by Religion News Service, suggests Perlasca’s witness was a watershed moment in the investigations and was instrumental in untangling the complex web of financial and personal relationships that led the Vatican to squander well over $200 million using funds destined for the pope’s charitable works.

Defense lawyers balked at Diddi’s proposal. The issue, they claim, is that without Perlasca’s interrogation and the other material that has yet to be shared by the prosecution, they lack the opportunity for a fair trial. The defense lawyer of Enrico Crasso, who formerly managed a significant portion of the Vatican’s investment portfolio, called the prosecution’s request “incoherent and illegitimate.”

“Any request is void if the defense is not in the condition to review the evidence,” said Becciu’s lawyer, dismissing what he called the “selection” of information shared by the prosecutors.

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Diddi objected to the criticism by the defense and some media outlets alleging the judges “have already decided the sentence.” He dismissed accusations that the prosecution withheld evidence, at one point asking the defense lawyers in the room directly: “Tell us, which false evidence did we present?”

Instead, the prosecutors claimed the sheer size of the material that was confiscated and collected during the investigations — including 300 DVDs and other electronic material — has created a logistical headache for the Vatican lawyers.

Vatican prosecutors insisted they are willing to share the video recording of Perlasca’s interrogation but said he asked the tribunal to allow him to withhold some of the material in order to “protect the privacy” of the officials in the recording and “regulate the viewing of the documents to avoid its distribution.”

Referring to the errors made in the process of sharing and acquiring information during the investigation, Diddi admitted “we made a mistake!” as lawyers in the room chuckled and scoffed, dispelling the growing tension in the room and seemingly with it, the credibility of the entire trial.

Since the first pretrial hearing in July, Vatican prosecutors have struggled to stand up to the massive team of lawyers and attorneys presented by the 10 defendants, and questions on whether the Vatican court is equipped to handle such an ambitious financial trial have loomed over the proceedings.

With a lifetime of experience fighting organized crime in courts, Pignatone held a firm hand on the debates taking place at the Vatican trial on Tuesday. The defense lawyers, he said, “have a right to obtain a copy” of all the evidence.

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