London building trial: Defense claims 'mutilated' evidence, prosecution says 'everything correct'
By Salvatore Cernuzio
The trial in the Vatican regarding alleged illicit dealings with the funds of the Holy See has not yet come to a head and will probably still take some time. After the partial restitution of documents to the Office of the Promoter of Justice, there are only six remaining defendants out of the initial ten: Cardinal Giovanni Angelo Becciu, the former director and president of AIF, Tommaso Di Ruzza and René Brüllhart, the financiers Enrico Crasso, Gianluigi Torzi, and the manager Cecilia Marogna (the positions of the four companies have also been eliminated)
"It will take time to start, if we ever manage to start," said the president of the Vatican Tribunal, Giuseppe Pignatone, opening the fourth session in the multipurpose room of the Vatican Museums. The hearing - which lasted 2 hours and 40 minutes, with a one-hour break in between - was entirely dedicated to the issue of cuts and omissions by the Promoters of Justice on the documents submitted on 3 November.
Postponed to 1 December
There were procedural disagreements with the defense attorneys who, on the one hand, objected once again arguing that the trial was null and void due to a "mutilation" of the evidence and an "inadmissible" method of investigation that prevented the full exercise of the right of defense.
On the other hand, the Promoters of Justice asserted that the cuts to the submitted material were related to new and ongoing areas of investigation, raising the question of investigative secrecy. Having heard both sides, Pignatone did not pass a ruling and postponed the hearing to 1 December, at 9:30 am.
A new substitute judge
At the beginning of the hearing, only Cardinal Becciu was present from among the defendants. President Pignatone announced the appointment of a substitute judge, Lucia Bozzi.
Pignatone explained that this decision was made given the number of charges, defendants and witnesses involved in this trial which, "will not be short-lived".
An enormous amount of material
The entire session focused on the material that the Office of the Promoter of Justice filed last 3 November, following the Court's order of 29 July, which was repeated on 6 October. The material consists of more than 115 hours of recorded conversations, contained in 53 DVDs: one DVD with telephone taps, the other 52 with the audio and video files of the five interrogations of Monsignor Alberto Perlasca, who, at the time of the facts was the head of the administrative office of the first section of the Secretariat of State, and is now considered a “key witness.”
The defense attorneys protested the "obvious inadequacy of the time to examine the enormous amount of material." They then strongly criticized the fact that large excerpts of the declarations, including those of Perlasca (involving, for example, cuts of up to 60 minutes), were omitted by the promoter of Justice due to "investigative needs".
Request for nullity
Fabio Viglione, Cardinal Becciu's lawyer, spoke of a "falsified, mutilated nature" of the evidence - of both the audio-video evidence and the so-called forensic copies of the seized computer devices. He explained that there was no desire to raise controversy with the Vatican magistrates, but they would rather prefer to have the complete material available in order “to be able to defend ourselves.” According to the lawyer, "this system is inadmissible", as what is being objected to is a "nullity that cannot be remedied".
Viglione also asked for a further verification of Monsignor Perlasca's trial status, since the Office of the Promoter clarified that for the monsignor from Como "a separate procedure has been carried out", but without other details such as dates, eventual charges or termination of the case, information that is useful to know "out of necessity and not curiosity".
Interrogation of Monsignor Perlasca
The same requests were collected and reiterated by lawyer Luigi Panella, the defender of Enrico Crasso, who stated that the redaction of the deposited materials constitute an "absolute and irremediable nullity" and that "from the examination of more than one hundred hours emerges a profile of incompleteness of the written transcripts, drawn up in summary form that does not give an accurate account of what was said".
With his computer in hand, the lawyer then tried to play over the microphone, the clip of the 29 April 2020 video interrogation of Monsignor Perlasca, on the alleged extortion of 15 million euros on the purchase of the property on Sloane Avenue, alleged against Torzi, Crasso, Monsignor Mauro Carlino and Fabrizio Tirabassi. At one point during the interrogation, the Promoter of Justice interrupted the witness saying, “Monsignor, this has nothing to do with it! Before doing what we are currently doing, we went to the Holy Father and asked him what happened."
Panella’s deduction that the Holy Father was interviewed as a witness but there was no statement by the Pope in the records. From the video, the lawyer insisted that, Perlasca's " supreme bewilderment" was clearly visible, and he was so "shocked" that on 31 August 2020, he spontaneously presented himself to the magistrates without a defender. Panella added that the direct intervention of the Pope, as a person informed of the facts in the proceedings was “unheard of.” He also noted that he had commissioned a technical assessment of the censored material (about 28 pages) from which several critical issues emerged, in particular the lack of some minutes of the recordings.
The reply of the promoter of Justice
After a break of about an hour, the Promoter of Justice, Alessandro Diddi, intervened and began by describing the questions raised by the defense as “specious”. Regarding the involvement of Pope Francis, he said: “Let me be clear, this office has never questioned the Holy Father, and has never contested the statements of the Holy Father to Monsignor Perlasca." He explained that there was a moment in which Monsignor Perlasca was saying thing that led him to hit a wall and the Office of the Promoter pointed it out to the Monsignor, saying “Look, you are going against a wall, because we were aware of what the Holy Father - I say this with emotion - testified long ago about this affair.”
The reference was to Pope Francis' response to reporters at a press conference on the plane from Thailand to Japan in November 2019, in which he explained how the beginning of the proceedings came about and why the office had a meeting with the Holy Father.
New elements of the investigation
Refuting the requests for nullity, the representative of the prosecution also justified the audio-video redaction and the “investigative secrecy” as an “unquestionable” choice since other elements parallel to the investigation of the purchase and sale of the London Palace had arrived in the course of the investigation. In addition, the defense was present for the most part for the redacted materials.
As for the more than 115 hours of video recordings deposited, Diddi explained that they "are faithful transcriptions of what was verbalized.” He said that he did not think that the theme of the trial is how we made the video recordings and we need to be clear about what we want from the process. “If there are those who think that the Promoter's Office has produced fakes, denounce us for ideological falsification,” he said, adding that “these insinuations are a disgrace."
At the conclusion of the hearing, Pignatone announced that the Vatican Tribunal reserves the right to "provide for the complex issues raised." However, he added, "we will not begin the examination of the questions of this process until the defense has complete knowledge of the acts.”