Becciu trial to continue, prosecutors ordered to share evidence

News: Vatican finance trial

The presiding judge in the Vatican’s trial of 10 defendants accused of serious financial crimes ordered defense attorneys to share evidence they’ve withheld from prosecutors, and to question defendants on the record. 

The judge also set a date for the trial’s next hearing, aiming to keep it from falling off the rails while procedural and evidentiary issues are addressed.

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In a hearing Wednesday, presiding judge Giuseppe Pignatone responded to an unexpected move from Vatican prosecutors, who offered on Tuesday to reopen the trial’s investigate phase in order to address procedural issues raised by defense attorneys, including complaints that not all of their clients were actually questioned by prosecutors before they were indicted in July.

Pignatone did not move the trial back to the investigative phase, but did allow for defendants to be deposed by prosecutors, entering their account of events into the official record of the trial. 

The judge also ordered, again, that prosecutors turn over videotaped depositions of a key witness in the case, hours of testimony made by Msgr. Alberto Perlasca, a former senior official at the Secretariat of State.

That video was at the center of a dispute in August, with defense attorneys saying they needed it to prepare their cases, and prosecutors saying they would only turn over written summaries. After Pignatone ordered prosecutors to hand over evidence, defense counsel accused them of violating the judge’s court order. 

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In August, lawyers for Fabrizio Tirabassi, a former lay official at the Secretariat of State charged with corruption, extortion, embezzlement, fraud and abuse of office, called the prosecution’s refusal to immediately hand over the recordings “surprising and unique in the history of criminal trials,” and dismissed their arguments as “specious.” 

In February 2020, Perlasca’s home and office were raided by Vatican police over his work on the London property deal which triggered the 2019 investigation and led to the current trial. 

Since then, Perlasca has given a number of voluntary interviews to prosecutors, apparently recorded on video, in which, prosecutors contend, he laid out the network of financial dealings and decision making at the secretariat and allowed for the construction of much of the case now being heard by the court.

Lawyers for several defendants, including Cardinal Becciu, initially argued that Perlasca’s statements to investigators should be ruled inadmissible since the former official was questioned without a lawyer present. That plea was rejected by the court, after prosecutors said that Perlasca presented himself for questioning voluntarily, and had not been interrogated as a suspect.

Becciu’s attorneys now say that Perlasca’s statements could exonerate their client from some crimes, and must be seen.

The criminal trial concerns the Vatican Secretariat of State’s investment in a London building developed as luxury apartments. The investment of more than 350 million euros has been described as fraudulent and coerced, with both officials of the Vatican, outside brokers, and the building’s previous owner now facing trial for their role in an escalating series of calamaties and deception that unfolded as the Secretariat sunk its money into the building. 

The next hearing in the trial is scheduled for Nov. 17.