Vatican judges in fraud trial agree defense rights have been violated
VATICAN CITY (AP) – The Vatican court hearing a landmark fraud case on Wednesday ruled that prosecutors stripped 10 defendants of their rights and ordered prosecutors to turn over key evidence and redo their case. investigation for some suspects.
The President of the Tribunal, Giuseppe Pignatone, said that there had been “lamentable violations” on the part of the Pope’s prosecutors in not giving the suspects the opportunity to respond to all the charges brought against them during the preliminary phase of investigation.
Pignatone also reiterated his July 29 order for prosecutors to turn over video recordings of a key suspect-turned-star witness whose testimony formed the basis of several of the indictment charges. He dismissed as incomprehensible the prosecutors’ arguments that the witness’s privacy would be compromised if the tapes were turned over to the defense.
The lawsuit concerns the Holy See’s investment in 2013 in a London real estate company who lost tens of millions of euros in the Vatican, including a large part of donations from the faithful which were spent in fees for Italian brokers.
Prosecutors charged brokers of defrauding the Holy See, and several Vatican officials of abuse of office, corruption and other accusations.
The most complicated trial in recent Vatican history has been touted as proof of Pope Francis’ intransigent attitude towards financial embezzlement. But Pignatone’s decision exposed the fundamental flaws of Vatican prosecutors, who had previously been criticized by a British judge for making “appalling” misstatements and omissions. in a related asset seizure case.
Defense lawyers had argued that procedural errors made by prosecutors during the investigation phase were so damaging to suspects’ rights to defend themselves. that the charges should be dismissed entirely.
The three-judge court refused to issue a blanket quashing of the indictment for the 10 suspects. But in a decision read aloud Wednesday in court, Pigantone said four people were to be questioned on all charges, and identified some charges that others should be given the opportunity to respond to.
Defense lawyers said they were happy with the decision, noting that the court accepted their objections and identified shortcomings in the prosecution‘s case.
Giandomenico Caiazzza, lawyer for broker Raffaele Mincione, said the ruling amounted to quashing the indictment against his client, who handled London’s initial investment for the Vatican and is accused of embezzling funds and fraud.
âI think maybe this is the start of a different reading of this whole thing,â Caiazzza said.
According to the lawyer, Mincione was never formally invited to appear for questioning during the investigation and refused to appear alone after another broker did and was jailed for 10 days in the Vatican barracks.
Caiazza said the court ruling showed “that there were no conditions for procedural legitimacy for an indictment. Its very important.”
Pignatone also ordered prosecutors to make available hours of testimony recorded by Bishop Alberto Perlasca, who was the Vatican official most closely involved in the London deal. He was originally a key suspect since he signed the contracts with the brokers.
But after his initial questioning, Perlasca fired his lawyer and apparently began to cooperate with prosecutors. The information from his subsequent interviews was so important to the prosecution’s case that it spared him the indictment and formed the basis of several charges.
One of his charges led to a witness tampering charge against Cardinal Angelo Becciu, the only cardinal to stand trial. Becciu only learned of the accusation in the indictment and never had a chance to respond to it until the trial began, according to his lawyer.
He will now have the opportunity, with the benefit of the defense having seen Perlasca’s original testimony videotaped.
“Everything we opposed was accepted,” lawyer Fabio Viglione said.