At Vatican trial, defense questions the legal system itself

VATICAN CITY (AP) — Defense lawyers are questioning the legitimacy of the Vatican tribunal where 10 people are on trial on finance-related charges, arguing their clients can’t get a fair trial in an absolute monarchy where the pope has already intervened in the case and where prosecutors have failed to turn over key evidence.

In defense motions ahead of the trial’s resumption on Tuesday, lawyers have alleged numerous procedural violations by prosecutors that they say should nullify the indictment. They have questioned what redress they have, since the Holy See has never signed any international convention guaranteeing fair trials or providing recourse to the European Court of Human Rights.

“These are harmful to the right of the defense that affect the right to a fair trial,” said Fabio Viglione, attorney for Cardinal Angelo Becciu, the lone cardinal on trial.

The trial concerns the Holy See’s 350 million euro investment in a London property deal but has expanded to include other alleged financial crimes. During the preliminary hearing in July, defense lawyers had balked that they had only had a few days to read the 28,000 pages of evidence gathered by prosecutors over two years to understand the accusations against their clients. Key documents were either missing or couldn’t be accessed.

The tribunal president, Giuseppe Pignatone, ordered the pope’s prosecutors to make the documents available as well as a key missing piece of evidence: the videotaped interrogations of the prosecutors’ prime suspect-turned-star witness, Monsignor Alberto Perlasca. He was the Vatican official most intimately involved in the London real estate deal that lost the Holy See tens of millions of euros, much of it donations from the faithful, spent on fees to Italian brokers who are accused of defrauding the pope.

Perlasca’s five spontaneous declarations were so important to the prosecution’s case that they apparently spared him indictment and formed the basis of several charges against the defendants. One led to a witness-tampering charge against Becciu.

But the prosecutors refused to abide by Pignatone’s order to produce Perlasca’s videotaped testimony, citing his right to privacy. The defense has only seen a summary of Perlasca’s account, and Becciu’s legal team only learned of the witness-tampering accusation when the indictment was handed down on July 3.

In a defense memo submitted last week and obtained by The Associated Press, lawyers representing another defendant, Cecilia Marogna, said such behavior by prosecutors to refuse an order of the tribunal president would never be tolerated in an Italian court.

“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,” said the memo by international law expert, Riccardo Sindoca.