First hearing of trial presided over by Giuseppe Pignatone, President of the Vatican Tribunal First hearing of trial presided over by Giuseppe Pignatone, President of the Vatican Tribunal 

First hearing held in Vatican over London building

The trial over the use Secretariat of State funds began on Tuesday in the courtroom of the Vatican Museums. The defense attorneys for the ten defendants presented preliminary motions. The next hearing is scheduled for October 5.

Salvatore Cernuzio - Vatican City

The large courtroom set up in the Vatican Museums hosted, on Tuesday, 27 July, the first hearing in the Vatican over the illicit deals made with Secretariat of State funds, starting with the sale of the Sloane Avenue Building in London. Judge Giuseppe Pignatonewith Judges Venerando Marano and Carlo Bonzano at his side, presided over the hearing, which lasted seven hours from 9:41 to 16:45. About thirty lawyers, journalists, and gendarmes were present, although only two of the ten defendants were present: Msgr. Mauro Carlino, already in the courtroom early in the morning, and Cardinal Giovanni Angelo Becciu, the former Substitute of the Secretariat of State, who is accused of embezzlement, abuse of office and subornation. The cardinal, from whom the Pope revoked the prerogatives of the cardinalate in September 2020, attended the entire hearing sitting. And at the end of the hearing, he recalled that he had always been "obedient to the Pope, who sent me to trial", saying he was "not worried": "I have the confidence that the judges will see the facts clearly and my great hope is the certainty that they will recognize my innocence". He also announced that he had given a mandate to his lawyers to denounce Msgr. Alberto Perlasca and Francesca Immacolata Chaouqui for slander. 

Marogna and Torzi's lawyers ask for a postponement

At the beginning of the hearing, Pignatone communicated the extension of the terms for the presentation of evidence and petitions for the respective defenses and joined to the main trial the position of the former president of AIF (now ASIF), René Brülhart, who, through his lawyer, made it known that he was prevented from coming from Zurich but agreed to the continuation of the trial. Pignatone then gave the floor to the lawyers. The first one was Fiorino Ruggio, defender of Cecilia Marogna, the manager from Cagliari, who was not present. The lawyer made a request for a postponement since the DIS (Dipartimento delle informazioni per la sicurezza) had ordered an investigation and therefore the testimony of Marogna has to be freed from secrecy first.

Ambra Giovene, Torzi's lawyer, deposited a copy of the request for "legitimate impediment" of his client to attend the hearing. Torzi is the recipient of a precautionary measure, which also includes an electronic bracelet, issued on April 28, 2021 with a request for extradition from Great Britain: "He cannot move from London," his lawyer said. And the other lawyer Marco Franco replied: "Torzi, even when he would receive the authorization from the British judge to come to court, would be arrested at Fiumicino airport". The defense then insisted on the postponement: "It is not in the interest of this defense to hold a trial on its own".

The defender of Crassus

Over an hour was spent by the lawyer Carlo Panella, defending the financier Enrico Crasso and his three companies (Prestige Family Office Sa, Sogenel Capital Investment, Hp Finance), who presented some objections. The first related to the establishment of a civil action by APSA and the IOR, which, according to the lawyer, should be "inadmissible" as they presented "a generic formula" with the request for compensation for pecuniary and non-pecuniary damage, including damage to reputation, without explaining the reasons. Panella then stated that: "It is not possible that three parties are constituted expressions of the same state and that each one asks for compensation. The risk is to triple the compensation". The lawyer then complained about the lack of "numerous acts" - among the 28 thousand documents deposited - which to date have not been made available to the defence or were illegible, including nine USB pen drives containing bank statements and bank documentation from Switzerland. The lawyer has also pointed out that the defendants have not been guaranteed the necessary time to prepare their defence.

A lawyer presents his findings during the trial
A lawyer presents his findings during the trial

Challenges on the Pope's rescripts

Panella also contended that there would be a lack of jurisdiction over the crimes of money laundering and self-laundering charged against Crassus and his companies abroad and not on Vatican territory. Finally, he challenged the fact that by virtue of a Rescript dated 2 July 2019 by Pope Francis, the office of the Promoter of Justice was authorized to proceed in the manner of a summary process and to take measures, including precautionary measures. According to the lawyer, a rescript is an "administrative act", and so there is a "doubt concerning whether is appropriat that an administrative act should derogate from existing legislation." Three other Rescripts of the Pope would have introduced criminal procedures "only for this process", which, according to Crassus' defender, would make the Vatican "a special Tribunal".

Tirabassi's Defense

All the other attorneys joined in the requests of attorney Panella, asking that the indictment be declared null and void. In particular, Cataldo Intrieri, a lawyer for Fabrizio Tirabassi (formerly an official of the Secretariat of State) pointed out that the acts lack documentation concerning his client, such as the search and seizure order that took place in October 2019 in the Secretariat of State and the experts’ report on the examination of Tirabassi's computers: "The contents were extracted without our being consulted." And he recalled that money was seized from Tirabassi's and his father's home that, according to the lawyer, should not have been possible to sequester "because it was there before 2013". Moreover, according to what Intrieri pointed out, the file of the appeals court in Rome that had established the illegitimacy of the seizure and ordered the restitution of the goods to the owners appears to be missing.

Perlasca and the trial

This was followed by the intervention of attorney Salvino Mondello, who stated that his client, Msgr. Carlino, had been accused in the two interrogations of "completely different crimes from those that had been referred". Then it was the turn of Fabio Viglione, Cardinal Becciu's lawyer, who complained about the lack of recordings of Msgr. Alberto Perlasca's interrogations (including videos of the interrogations), as well as "a series of acts that refer to forensic copies of numerous computer devices in use" by Perlasca himself. This was echoed by deputy Leonardo Mazza, according to whom the five interrogations of Perlasca - of which, he said, traces had been lost - are null and void, as well as "the result of an obvious procedural violation of the rights of guarantee". In particular, this regards the first interrogation of August 31, 2020, to which the Perlasca presented himself voluntarily and without a defence attorney.  

On the other hand, Giandomenico Caiazza, defense counsel for broker Raffaele Mincione, said that in the acts they learned "almost by chance" of the existence of an arrest warrant issued on 19 June 2020 against Mincione. "This warrant was never executed, but it was issued with the same logic as that of Torzi". The lawyer hinted that if Mincione had shown up for questioning that day, he would have been arrested: "This is a method that will call for appropriate prudence towards similar citations to interrogations at the Vatican City State".

Severino: "The Pope is the legislator".

The lawyers' remarks were answered by Paola Severino, former Italian Minister of Justice and attorney for the Secretariat of State for the civil process, who reiterated the legitimacy of APSA's incorporation as a civil plaintiff by virtue of the Pope's Motu proprio of December 26, 2020, which transferred funds and investments of the Secretariat of State to the Administration of the Patrimony of the Apostolic See. "In the case of compensation to the Secretariat of State, no longer holders of assets, there were fears of objections of legitimacy. Hence the establishment of the APSA". As for the fact that the Vatican is a "special tribunal", the professor reiterated the "strong moral connotation" of the trial underway and, on several occasions; the validity of the rescripts of the Pontiff, stressing that "the Pope is the legislator, as is the case in all the processes in the Vatican". 

Also present in the courtroom on behalf of the IOR was lawyer Roberto Lipari, who stressed that the Istituto per le Opere di Religione is "an injured party":

"The task of the IOR is to safeguard the assets destined for works of religion and charity. The illicit use of IOR assets damages the ability of the IOR - which is not part of either the Holy See or the Vatican City State - to make new contacts and relationships."

The Promoter of Justice

For his part, the promoter of justice (effectively, the chief prosecutor), Gian Piero Milano, returned to the question of the papal rescript which, he explained, is an act that expresses "the supreme power" of the Pope: "If we look at this hearing with the eyes of a jurist, we have a deformed vision of this order and we can attribute non-compliant meanings of the civil orders," he clarified. Referring to the "special" character of the Vatican Tribunal for the ongoing process, he said instead: "It would become a special tribunal if it arrogated to itself the prerogative of reviewing acts that are the expression of a power removed from any evaluation".

The explanations of the assistant promoter

The response of the assistant promoter, Alessandro Diddi, was more extensive. He began by saying, "If we have made mistakes, we are ready to amend them". Then he replied, point by point, to each of the objections of the lawyers. First of all, he made it clear that the defense should not be based on the differences between the Italian and Vatican systems: "Let's clarify the rules: making continuous reference to a system that is not the one in force distracts attention from what we are going to do from here in the coming months". Reiterating the effectiveness of the Pope's rescripts, Diddi explained that it is precisely because of this papal provision that the arrest warrant for Torzi and Mincione was issued. The latter mandate was decided because during those days in June 2020, at a "crucial" phase of the investigations, there was "an attempt to mislead" by the two brokers. "We felt we had to intervene with precautionary measures".

The adjunct promoter also explained that all the computer items seized are currently kept in a safe in the office of the Promoter of Justice and that if some acts have not been produced it is because the laws in force establish that it is possible to deposit acts of proceedings and not seized acts: "The only material that cannot be included is a huge amount of computer items kept in a small location, a small building, in a room full of devices". However, Diddi reiterated his willingness, subject to authorization by the Court, to reproduce any documentation requested. Finally, he said he was proud of the fact that "in a year and a half of investigations there has been no leakage of information".

The decision of the Tribunal

After an hour and twenty minutes of council chamber, President Pignatone revoked the Vatican's arrest warrant against Mincione and reserved the right to decide on the objections and requests of the lawyers. He then established the judgment in absentia of all those absent from the first hearing, with the exception of broker Gianluigi Torzi, who is not participating due to a legitimate impediment; as well as Cardinal Becciu and his former secretary Msgr. Carlino who had appeared in court.

The courtroom of the trial in the Vatican Museums
The courtroom of the trial in the Vatican Museums

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28 July 2021, 11:13