A small side street winds past the lion’s walls of the Vatican and leads to the special room where the macro trial against Cardinal Angelo Becciu and the corruption plot he allegedly led takes place. A historic process by the level of the main accused, who the Pope deprived of his rights as a cardinal and who this Tuesday listened silently in the last row of the dock. But also because in the room of the Vatican Museums, set up for the occasion due to the size of the process, the capacity of the Vatican to put order in its own affairs was clarified at the same time. And it didn’t start out well. The deputy prosecutor, Alessandro Diddi, asked to restart the entire investigation process to prevent the “mistakes” committed from causing the case to be annulled, as demanded by the defense before the astonished gaze of the president of the court, the renowned anti-mafia prosecutor Giuseppe Pignatone.
The room, presided over by a photo of the Pope and a large cross, welcomed all parties to a process in which 10 people are charged. A trial that was facing its second session – the first closed in July with the hearing postponed due to the defense requests – to clarify whether there were crimes in the sale of a building in London worth 350 million euros. An argument that had to also serve to set the tone for a new era in the control of Vatican bonds. But the second session returned to the steps of the first and the defenses requested the annulment of the process due to different structural defects. Evidence is lacking and the Prosecutor’s Office refused to cite a witness that the defense considers essential, Monsignor Alberto Perlasca. At times the trial was a cricket cage, in which the Prosecutor’s Office and the defenses exchanged opinions loudly. And before the impossibility of moving forward, the president of the court ended up postponing the hearing again to decide this Wednesday whether to set the counter to zero.
Becciu was until recently the most experienced plumber in the Vatican and one of the most powerful and appreciated prelates by Francis himself. This Tuesday he waited at the back of the dock, dressed in a discreet gray and silently taking notes. He and his secretary, Monsignor Mauro Carlino, were the only ones to appear. The cardinal seemed calm, joked with the press and followed the allegations of the prosecutor and the rest of the defenses attentively. In a year, the Sardinian cardinal went from being one of the main candidates to succeed this Pope in a hypothetical next conclave, to seeing his name in the press accusing him of corruption and of favoring his family with jobs on behalf of the Vatican.
The central cause of the trial is the sale of a property in London in 2015 that Becciu authorized, then a substitute for the Secretary of State (something like the Minister of the Interior). The operation was carried out through a series of intermediaries who charged millionaire commissions and who reserved the power to block future movements, despite the fact that they had contributed practically no capital. The operation was carried out with the funds from the Óbolo de San Pedro, theoretically destined to pay for the charity works of the Holy See. A long investigation that began two years ago collected in some 29,000 pages – later synthesized in the 500 pages of the summary – allowed to determine that the activity of the accused supposedly supposed “considerable losses for finances [entre 73 y 166 millones]”, According to Nunzio Gallantino, president of APSA, the organization that manages Vatican buildings.
The basis of the process, however, does not convince the defenses. The Prosecutor’s Office has set up part of the case through the statements of Monsignor Alberto Perlasca – of whom they do not want to show the recording where they appear -, and of Francesca Immaculate Chaouqui, a kind of lobbyist that was already in the eye of the hurricane in the case known as Vatileaks 2 after the Holy See had commissioned him some reports on the economic structure. Then she was condemned for the leaks made during that process and she became one of those extravagant characters that always appear in Vatican plots trying to fish in a troubled river. It is strange to many now that it is taken into consideration again.
The annulment petition is based, fundamentally, on the famous video statement of the main witness, Monsignor Perlasca (a former employee of the Secretary of State who was also the main defendant at the time). A testimony that was taken without his lawyer, which lasts more than three hours during which he substantially changed his initial version, to the point of becoming a collaborator in the process. The video contains five statements: two as a defendant and three as a witness. But none of the defenses has been able to see it. And no one understands why it is hidden if, in fact, it had to be registered for it to appear as evidence. “We recorded it so that no one could think that he had been tortured,” the prosecutor defended at the time, as Becciu’s lawyer explained on Tuesday.
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The deficiencies of Vatican justice, beyond the merits of the matter, become apparent as the trial progresses. An impression shared by the Moneyval body of the Council of Europe, which pointed out that the part-time activity of Vatican prosecutors and judges – who also work in Italy – can generate conflicts of interest. The Vatican tries to advance in this field, but its operation as a kind of absolute monarchy prevents the development of an independent justice. Francisco himself, who hired the current president of the court, already declared a year ago culpable to Becciu when he stripped him of his rights as cardinal a year ago and forced him to resign from all his functions. The penalty, in short, before conviction. Neither do the doubts shown by all those involved when dealing with the Vatican penal code, who are more used to doing so in the courts of Italy, improve that perception. The place, precisely, where some believed this Tuesday that this process should have developed.