Judges in Vatican financial trial order prosecutors to release evidence to defense

The decision followed a forceful pushback on Tuesday from the team of lawyers representing 10 defendants, including the church's former third-highest-ranking prelate, Cardinal Angelo Becciu.

In this July 13, 2010, file photo, then-Reggio Calabria prosecutor Giuseppe Pignatone speaks during a news conference at Milan’s court, Italy. A Vatican tribunal has agreed that 10 defendants in a fraud trial were deprived of their rights. The trial concerns the Holy See’s 2013 investment in a London real estate venture that lost the Vatican tens of millions of euros. Tribunal President Giuseppe Pignatone said there had been “lamentable violations” by the pope’s prosecutors in failing to give the suspects the chance to respond to all accusations against them during the preliminary phase of the investigation. (AP Photo/Antonio Calanni, file)

VATICAN CITY (RNS) — Vatican judges presiding over a megatrial of clergy and employees in connection with a large-scale financial scandal ordered on Wednesday (Oct. 6) that additional material be handed over to the defense teams and that some evidence collected during the investigations be withdrawn.

The decision followed a forceful pushback on Tuesday from the team of lawyers representing 10 defendants, including the church’s former third-highest-ranking prelate, Cardinal Angelo Becciu. The Vatican tribunal, led by its president, Giuseppe Pignatone, ruled that the Vatican’s prosecutor must hand over all the evidence, including full recordings of phone calls and interrogations, by Nov. 3.

The judges’ ruling, read from the bench by Pignatone, was another unflattering moment for Vatican prosecutors, who were upbraided by a British judge in March for making “appalling” misrepresentations in a proceeding in London related to the real estate deal at the heart of the case.  

The charges in the trial revolve around the controversial purchase of real estate in London that resulted in a loss of more than $200 million for the Vatican.

The most sensitive piece of evidence withheld from defense lawyers is a video recording of an interrogation of Monsignor Alberto Perlasca, Becciu’s former private secretary, who signed the contract for the London real estate deal but was not indicted after agreeing to cooperate with investigators. The defense was given only a summarized verbal transcript of Perlasca’s video interview.

Perlasca’s testimony was a crucial contribution to their effort to reconstruct the events relating to the London property, Vatican prosecutors say, but they claimed that its content could not be shared without “irreparably compromising the privacy rights of the people involved.” 

Defense lawyers said their ability to cross-examine witnesses would be “grievously harmed” if they didn’t have full knowledge of Perlasca’s testimony. 

“We objected to not having at our disposal a series of documents such as the entirety of the interrogations,” Becciu’s lawyer, Fabio Viglione, told reporters on Wednesday. “Once we have all the documents, we will defend ourselves more efficiently,” he said.

“We want everything!” he added, not the “little summaries.”

RELATED: Vatican megatrial stalls as judge considers request to start afresh

Alessandro Diddi, the Vatican promoter of justice, as prosectors are known in the Vatican system, admitted on Tuesday that it was a “mistake” not to divulge the entirety of the evidence, and in the ruling Pignatone read from the bench, the tribunal agreed.

“The deposition of the documents requested by the defense seems indispensable to the goal of ensuring fairness,” Pignatone said, and he suggested that the prosecution could not both count Perlasca’s interrogation as evidence while asking that its contents remain confidential.

RELATED: Vatican poverty conference features activist William Barber, message from pope

Donate to Support Independent Journalism!

Donate Now!