Prosecutor makes surprise offer in Vatican fraud trial

A Vatican prosecutor on Tuesday offered to essentially relaunch his fraud and corruption investigation into the Holy See’s 350 million euros ($ 406.1 million) investment in London property to address issues of proceedings which, according to the defense, are so serious that they should overturn the indictment.

Prosecutor Alessandro Diddi made the surprise offer to take back all the evidence and question the suspects again at the start of the court’s second session in a trial that opened in July.

Diddi said his office had always acted to ensure the rights of the accused were respected and called his proposal a “common sense” way to address defense objections.

Lawyers for the 10 defendants accused Diddi’s office of withholding key evidence from them and failing to interview the suspects during the investigation phase on all charges that led to the indictment. They argue that these and other alleged procedural errors should cause the entire indictment to be dismissed.

Lawyers argue that such errors violate Vatican procedures and have hampered their ability to defend themselves.

Prosecutors missed the deadline to make all the evidence available and did not respect a July 29 order to hand over the videotaped interrogations of the suspect who became a star witness in the case, Bishop Alberto Perlasca.

A three-judge court is considering issuing an order Wednesday morning ruling on Diddi’s offer to stay the trial so that the suspects can be questioned, court president Giuseppe Pignatone said.

The lawsuit concerns the Holy See’s investment in 2013 in a London real estate company that cost the Vatican tens of millions of euros, largely donations from the faithful that were spent in fees for Italian brokers.

Prosecutors accused the brokers of defrauding the Holy See and several Vatican officials with abuse of office, bribery and other charges.

Perlasca, who headed the administrative office of the Secretary of State, was the Vatican official most closely involved in the London accord. He was originally a key suspect since he signed the contracts with the brokers.

But after his initial questioning, he fired his lawyer and apparently began to cooperate with prosecutors. The information from his subsequent interviews was so important to the prosecution’s case that it spared him the indictment and formed the basis of several charges against the 10 accused.

An interrogation led to an accusation of witness tampering against Cardinal Angelo Becciu, the only cardinal to stand trial.
The defense only saw a summary of Perlasca’s account, not the full interviews, and Becciu’s legal team only learned of the witness tampering charge when the indictment was released on July 3.

Vatican procedures require that suspects be allowed to answer charges before their trial begins.