Vatican prosecutors hand over tapes in financial trial

News: Vatican finances

Vatican prosecutors have complied with the judges’ instruction to hand over recordings of statements made by key witnesses in the trial of the Secretariat of State’s financial scandal. Before this week, the prosecutor’s office had repeatedly appealed the order to do so, which was first issued in July.

The recordings of statements made by Msgr. Alberto Perlasca, a former senior official at the Secretariat of State, were handed over by prosecutors late in the day Nov. 3, the final day they had to comply with an Oct. 6 instruction from the Vatican’s court, issued by chief judge Giuseppe Pignatone.

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The prosecution’s compliance with the order was first reported Wednesday by Italian journalist Maria Calabrò, who also subsequently confirmed that some portions of the recordings were not given to defense attorneys in the Vatican’s sprawling financial crimes trial, because they concern separate legal processes and ongoing investigations. 

But the tapes of interviews given by Perlasca in early September 2020 were turned over unedited. Those interviews came after the priest agreed to cooperate with prosecutors and shortly before the pope fired Cardinal Angelo Becciu from his curial positions and forced him to resign the rights of a cardinal.

In addition to Perlasca, recordings of prosecutors’ interviews with the businessmen Gianluigi Torzi and Enrico Crasso were turned over, also with small sections omitted. Both men are defendants in the Vatican’s trial. 

Prosecutors also turned over an edited recording of their interview with Luciano Capldo, an Italian architect and property developer with numerous business ties to Torzi.

Capaldo is also the last remaining director of the UK registered holding company through which the Secretariat of State controls the building at 60 Sloane Ave, London, the purchase of which kicked off the two year investigation which led to the current trial.

While Capaldo has not been charged in the current trial, the omissions from his interview, recorded in April of this year, are listed as of “investigative interest”.

Defense lawyers for the ten individuals on trial in the city state have argued for months that they should be permitted to review the full recordings of prosecutors’ interviews with witnesses.

Attorneys representing Cardinal Angelo Becciu, with whom Perlasca worked closely for many years, led the push to see the tapes turned over. In October, the Vatican’s tribunal agreed with them.

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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. 

After that, Perlasca gave 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. 

Prosecutors, in turn, had argued that they should not be compelled to turn over the full recordings because they included material relevant to ongoing investigations, and would be “susceptible to subsequent disclosure with consequent potential serious and irreparable damage to the rights of the persons who participated in the proceedings.”

When the court last met one month ago, prosecutors attempted to head off a major challenge to the legitimacy of their investigation by offering to return some of the charges brought against the 10 indictees, including Cardinal Becciu, to the investigative stage — essentially revoking the indictments for certain alleged crimes. 

Instead, the judges allowed for the defendants to be deposed by prosecutors, entering their account of events into the official record of the trial.

The news that prosecutors have complied with the court order sets up a likely new phase in the progress of the trial, which meets again later this month. While the previous two sessions have largely featured procedural arguments and appeals over access to documentation, the trial could now be clear to discuss the substance of the allegations and the evidence compiled by prosecutors.

The trial is set to resume Nov. 17.