VATICAN CITY—The historic corruption trial of a cardinal of the Catholic Church—the former No. 2 in the Secretariat of State—resumed on Oct. 5 after a nearly three-month adjournment, with the refusal of the prosecution to provide to the defense audio and video evidence dominating the proceedings.
As reported by The Epoch Times in July, Pope Francis had ordered a change in the law within the Vatican, so that a member of the clergy at the cardinal’s rank could be tried by laymen in lower courts. Up until this change, cardinals were judged solely by the pope.
As the trial began, Cardinal Giovanni Angelo Becciu was in court with his lawyer, Fabio Viglione, to face a wide range of corruption charges, including alleged money laundering, embezzlement, witness tampering, and oversight of a failed London property deal. Rumors of these allegations were reported on in both Italian and mainstream global press, well before charges were filed against him in July—a point, among others, that has caused the defense (along with third-party oversight, such as the Council of Europe’s money-laundering monitoring agency Moneyval) to question if a fair trial can even be attained by his client.
Hearings were postponed in July, after eight hours of initial arguments, by the three judges—Tribunal President Giuseppe Pignatone, Venerando Marano, and Carlo Bonzano—after lawyers for Becciu argued, successfully, that a number of serious legal procedures hadn’t been followed.
Pignatone ordered Vatican Prosecutor Alessandro Diddi to provide audio and video recordings of their senior witness against Cardinal Becciu, Monsignor Alberto Perlasca, following Diddi’s admittance of the recordings’ existence during the hearings. Diddi agreed to do so during the July hearings, but weeks later, on Aug. 11, he filed an argument stating that the prosecution didn’t believe it necessary under Vatican law to do so—and that such a revelation would violate the right to privacy due to Perlasca, who isn’t on trial.
In email correspondence with The Epoch Times on Oct. 5, Diddi appeared to take a slightly different position.
“The request of the [prosecution] office—as is well explained in the note of 9-8-2021—[The Prosecution] asked the court—in the absence of specific provisions [in Vatican Law]—how to regulate the presentation of audio/video files in order to protect the rights of third parties,” he wrote. “The prosecution did not make the decision not to provide the recordings of the depositions at all.”
In a report by The Associated Press on the eve of the Oct. 5 proceedings, Becciu’s defense lawyer, Viglione, questioned how refusals to obey a judicial order and provide critical evidence from the main witness against his client, as ordered by the court, couldn’t nullify the entire proceedings.
Viglione argued that in any other court, “recognizing international conventions guaranteeing fair trials or recourse to other European Courts focused on Human Rights,” so many procedural violations by prosecutors so early within the proceedings would be recognized as singularly detrimental to justice.
Supporting his concerns in a memo reportedly obtained by AP, international law expert Riccardo Sindoca wrote, addressing the Vatican Tribunal, “In a normal situation, in all countries having a judicial system that could be considered autonomous and impartial and structured in a way to safeguard a fair trial, the refusal would have been immediately sanctioned.”
In an opinion piece published in the Italian newspaper Corriere Della Sera, Italian historian and journalist Ernesto Galli della Loggia went further. He writes: “[If Becciu] really committed what he was charged, how can we explain the [prosecution’s] blatant violation of the rules that characterize the entire investigation of the trial?”
“What explanation is there for when the Roman Pontiff intervened with his authority as absolute legislator four times during the investigation, which was already underway, in order to allow new procedures, and establish new rules unfavorable to Becciu? I wonder where else in the civilized world this would have been allowed without causing a scandal?
“And how do you explain the prosecution’s attempt to avoid the presence of the main witness for their case in the courtroom, thus removing him from a predictably uncomfortable cross-examination by the defendant’s legal team?”
Tensions rose early on Oct. 5 as the prosecution defended its choice to deny full audio and video evidence to the defense. Conceding in early statements to the tribunal that mistakes were made, Diddi argued that despite such mistakes, protecting the privacy of his witness was essential to the integrity of his case.
Pignatone then referenced earlier statements made by Diddi on the video and audio evidence and jokingly asked the prosecutor whether he was confused on whether he would follow the orders of the court, after having voluntarily provided the existence of the evidence in July’s hearings.
When Diddi argued that the prosecution provided a synopsis of the transcripts, which he stated provided the requested evidence to the defense while protecting the right to privacy of Perlasca, the defense issued immediate objections.
Viglione argued that all of the prosecution’s evidence should be dismissed due to their failure to provide the audio and video evidence that contained the statements of the main witness against their client, per the direction of the court.
When asked on Oct. 5 by The Epoch Times if the prosecution expected their refusal to provide the defense evidence would be accepted by the tribunal, Diddi said: “I really do not understand the controversy surrounding a completely legitimate request by the defense regarding the proceedings. I don’t know how to explain it further.
“The [prosecution’s] office simply asked the Court if, in fulfilling the order [to provide the video and audio evidence], it should make the material available to the full court or whether—for the protection of third parties—it should be deposited in the registry with the possibility for the defense teams to examine it without extracting a copy.”
“It seems to me a simple and legitimate request and if the court deems that everything must be deposited, it will be deposited,” he said.
When The Epoch Times pressed for a statement regarding the overall case made by the prosecution, and how it had been received so far by the court, Diddi said, “I cannot release such a statement, but only felt the need, very strongly, to clarify [these points] because I’ve noticed certain disinformation [in the press].”
After the defense issued their objections, the tribunal announced the hearing would be suspended for a day, with the tribunal judges issuing their decision on these points on the morning of Oct. 6.
Speaking exclusively with The Epoch Times, Becciu’s defense team provided a statement in response to the proceedings of Oct. 5.
“We are satisfied with today’s outcome: the Promoter of Justice [prosecution] just needed to recognize the legitimacy of our preliminary arguments, and by doing so, Mr. Diddi, himself, asked the Court to accept our objections, thus correcting a mistake.
“We did not, however, stop at these objections.
“We petitioned the Court, on which we trustfully rely to uphold justice, to dismiss the charges altogether, ordering the prosecutor to give us all evidence—documents and videos—that unjustly and without cause, have not, as of today, been disclosed. Both the right to a fair trial and the Cardinal’s absolute innocence requires evidence against him be provided to him.”
On Oct. 6, Tribunal President Pignatone read a strongly worded judgment supporting the defense’s objections, while giving consideration to the admittance of the prosecution on their willingness to now provide the audio and video to the defense. Concluding that the evidence must be provided in a timely manner to the defense, the tribunal postponed the proceedings until Nov. 17 to give time for the defense to review the evidence.
This is a developing story that The Epoch Times will continue to report.