Tempest in a teapot? Vatican prosecutors defend fraud trial

Posted at 2:38 PM, February 28, 2022 and last updated 4:44 PM, July 5, 2023

By NICOLE WINFIELD Associated Press

VATICAN CITY (AP) — Prosecutors in the Vatican’s fraud and extortion trial dismissed defense objections as a “tempest in a teapot” on Monday as they defended their investigation and insisted they had turned over all evidence needed for the trial to open.

Judge Giuseppe Pignatone is to rule Tuesday on seven month’s worth of motions to dismiss the charges made by lawyers for the 10 people accused of financial crimes derived from the Holy See’s 350 million euro investment in a London real estate venture.

Prosecutor Alessandro Diddi insisted on the worthiness of the case going forward, noting that the latest estimates indicate the Holy See lost 217 million euros on the deal, much of it donations from the faithful.

Diddi’s office has accused the Holy See’s longtime money manager, Italian brokers and lawyers of fleecing the Vatican of tens of millions of euros in fees and of then extorting 15 million euros from the Vatican to get full ownership of the property. The 10 suspects deny wrongdoing.

Given the severity of the accusations, Diddi said he was “flabbergasted” by defense arguments that the case should be thrown out.

“We want to have a confrontation with the defense over the removal of funds. All these objections are an attempt to avoid a confrontation on the merits of the questions,” he said.

He argued that many of the defense motions were based on “disinformation” and a misunderstanding of the Vatican City State’s legal code, confusing it with Italian and even canon law. And he insisted that he and his staff had “done the impossible” to provide the defense with the documentation and copies of the evidence pertinent to the trial.

Defense lawyers have argued they received copies of only a fraction of the material seized by prosecutors during their two-year investigation. They have noted that of the 255 cell phones, laptops and computers seized from the suspects, forensic copies have only been provided for 16 of them.

Diddi has argued that he provided what was relevant to the case, arguing that his selection of the the relevant evidence followed the “principle and rules of general observance.”

“It’s a tempest in a teapot,” Diddi said Monday.

Defense lawyers have argued there is no provision in Vatican law allowing prosecutors to pick and choose what seized evidence is provided to the defense ahead of trial.

“We reiterate that, after seven months of trial, we still do not have a full copy of the data contained in the electronic devices seized, contrary to what the promotor of justice (prosecutor) affirmed today,” said attorney Fabio Viglione, representing the lone cardinal on trial.

Diddi also insisted he had never ordered any wiretaps of suspects outside the Vatican or authorized Vatican gendarmes to intercept them.

It was a response to comments by a key prosecution witness who testified about secretly recording defendant Cardinal Angelo Becciu at a well-known Roman restaurant. The testimony suggested the witness was wearing a wire for Vatican investigators, which would have been illegal, given the Vatican has no right to conduct criminal investigations in Italy, a foreign country.