A Vatican City court has scheduled a preliminary hearing for the wrongful termination lawsuit filed by Libero Milone, the former Vatican auditor who was accused by Cardinal Angelo Becciu of spying on the private lives of Vatican officials.
The hearing is scheduled for Jan. 25, despite an ongoing criminal investigation into the plaintiff. Under Vatican law, a criminal investigation into the same events should suspend the lawsuit, raising questions about both the legal tactics of Vatican prosecutors, and about how the lawsuit might overlap with the ongoing Vatican financial corruption trial.
Milone was named the Vatican’s first auditor general in 2015. After two years in that job, Milone was forced to resign under threat of legal prosecution after he was accused by the then sostituto at the Secretary of State, Cardinal Angelo Becciu, of “spying” on senior Vatican officials.
The former auditor general claims he was forced from office for doing his job, and for uncovering evidence of fraud, misappropriation of funds, embezzlement, and other financial crimes among senior churchmen, including cardinals.
Milone, together with his former Vatican deputy, Ferruccio Panicco, filed a claim for wrongful dismissal in Vatican City court late last year, telling journalists that the two men had spent years seeking compensation from the Vatican. The suit was filed against their former office, the Office of the Auditor General, and the Vatican Secretariat of State.
Milone told press in November last year that he has retained comprehensive files from his time auditing the Vatican and could prove his success at uncovering corruption.
A criminal investigation into allegations of Milone’s alleged “spying” was reopened shortly after the suit was filed. At the same time, Vatican City Promoter of Justice (public prosecutor), Alessandro Diddi, has registered an interest in Milone’s lawsuit, making his office an effective third party to the civil case.
While Diddi’s role as both an investigator of Milone and a registered party in his wrongful dismissal lawsuit is unusual, the court’s decision to schedule a preliminary hearing in the lawsuit is even more unusual, and raises legal questions.
Vatican City law requires that Milone’s lawsuit should be suspended while the plaintiff is under criminal investigation for essentially the same events, and permitted to proceed only after prosecutors have decided whether to file charges in the criminal case.
With the criminal investigation still open, the court has not indicated why a hearing in the lawsuit has been scheduled, or even officially confirmed the date.
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But while the Office of the Promoter of Justice could not be reached for comment, and Milone’s legal team declined to respond to questions, sources close to the case suggested to The Pillar that the decision to schedule a hearing date is intended to force Milone to turn over his personal files on curial finances.
“If [Milone and Panicco] want the case to proceed, then as a matter of law they must deposit with the court the evidence to support the claims,” explained one Vatican source with knowledge of the hearing. “Then it will be for the court to decide if there is merit to proceed with the case.”
The same source said that the hearing had been scheduled at Diddi’s encouragement, in an effort by the prosecutor to secure access to Milone’s records.
Diddi wants to see what [Milone] has, to see how it can affect his investigation, and to see what he can use in his other trial,” the source said in reference to the ongoing financial crimes trial in which Cardinal Becciu is the star defendant.
Several sources close to the case predicted that Milone would turn over documents ahead of the Jan. 25 hearing, all noting that his suit cannot proceed without that step.
“Of course, once Diddi gets his files, whether Milone gets a second hearing is anyone’s guess,” said a one source, who said the hearing date put the auditor’s legal team in a “Catch-22.”
“If they don’t turn over the files, it’s ‘case dismissed.’ If they do, then it’s an equal chance, at best, they invoke precedence for the criminal investigation and suspend the whole process. But you can probably start the clock on when someone starts leaking parts of Milone’s files — maybe against him — or Diddi deposits them in court for the other [criminal] trial.”
During the Secretariat of State financial crimes trial, the prosecutor has on several occasions told judges that he is still gathering new evidence on the case. Diddi has also indicated that he could file additional charges, including against his own star witness, Msgr. Alberto Perlasca.
Milone’s wrongful dismissal claim, filed Nov. 4, has already been the subject of delays and questions of interference by the prosecutor’s office.
When Milone and Panicco filed their claim, the former auditors nominated two lawyers to represent them in their case — one, an Italian lawyer, as main legal counsel, and the second an attorney authorized to practice before Vatican City courts as co-counsel — a common practice in Vatican City cases.
While no reason has been given for the refusal, sources close to the case have told The Pillar that Diddi’s office encouraged the decision.