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Analysis: As the year ends, where do things stand with the Vatican ‘trial of the century’?

Vatican Judge Giuseppe Pignatone listens during the third session of the trial of six defendants -- including Cardinal Angelo Becciu -- accused of financial crimes at the Vatican City State criminal court Nov. 17, 2021. (CNS photo/Vatican Media)

Rome Newsroom, Dec 19, 2022 / 08:45 am (CNA).

The latest round of hearings at the Vatican’s historic finance trial has revealed several twists that profoundly changed proceedings — and raised several questions for the court in the new year.

First of all, the so-called “super witness,” Monsignor Alberto Perlasca, has seen his credibility scrutinized as his testimonies raised eyebrows over apparent imprecisions. As proceedings show, he appears to have at least been poorly counseled.

Following these testimonies, an old Vatican acquaintance arrived at the scene of this trial investigating numerous financial crimes: Francesca Immacolata Chaouqui, a former commission member for the Study of the Vatican Economic-Administrative structures, well-known for her involvement in the 2016 Vatileaks scandal and trial.

Third, the testimony of Gianfranco Mammì, director general of the Institute for Religious Works (IOR), was followed with great interest — and raised crucial questions. Mammì heads up the IOR — often called the “Vatican bank” — an institution that derives its acronym from its Italian name, Istituto per le Opere di Religione.

His testimony was important: Mammì’s report initiated the investigation that led to the trial.

Three investigations, one trial

It is important to remember that the Vatican trial explores three different investigations: The notorious investment in Sloane Avenue, London; the so-called “Sardinia scandal” — the alleged embezzlement by Cardinal Angelo Becciu by way of donations made to Caritas and others in his native diocese of Oziere; and finally the person of Cecilia Marogna, the self-styled intelligence expert who says she was “hired” by the Holy See — and allegedly involved in negotiations for the release of hostages.

While these three investigations have provided many colorful aspects and details, a general picture emerges of this trial.

Monsignor Perlasca

When Perlasca was called to testify, Giuseppe Pignatone, president of the Vatican Tribunal, invited him four times to pay attention to his statements before the court — because he could be indicted for perjury.

Perlasca recounted that Cardinal Becciu had testified against him, but at the time, there had been no personal attacks by Becciu against him, nor even a deposition by Becciu. Moreover, Perlasca had not said who had suggested that there had been a deposition from the cardinal.

However, the promoter of justice, Alessandro Diddi — who is charged with the prosecution — revealed a surprise. On March 30, when Perlasca was supposed to be questioned, Diddi disclosed a series of chats by Genevieve Ciferri.

Ciferri is a family friend of Perlasca. She sent the chats at the previous week’s end, and they were not on the court’s record.

She revealed to the Vatican promoter of justice the steps she advised Perlasca to take — including a dinner at the Scarpone restaurant with Becciu — were suggested by what the monsignor called “an elderly magistrate,” but who was none other than Francesca Immacolata Chaouqui.

Chaouqui apparently told Ciferri what to suggest to Perlasca, step by step.

It may well have been her who suggested claiming this was communicated in the name of the Vatican magistrates. If so, she demonstrated precise knowledge of what was happening inside the Vatican walls.

Ciferri explained all this to Diddi with words that would suggest manipulation. Still, the question of precisely how and why Chaouqui took this initiative remains unsolved, raising further questions.

How did she know there was a Vatican investigation and trial underway? At the time of first contact, only the investigators and Vatican gendarmes could have known about it.

Moreover, Perlasca testified that he had received threats from Chaouqui herself. He reproduced threatening chats sent to him — and told the court he had not blocked the number only because Chaouqui herself had warned him not to.

It also turned out that on Feb. 4, 2021, Genevieve Ciferri phoned Diddi’s office: She complained of threats and the cumbersome presence of Chaouqui. The promoter of justice reported the phone call in a note for internal use, sent to the gendarmerie. And then, on March 1, 2022, there is Perlasca, telling the gendarmerie that he feels threatened by Chaouqui.

These are details that have so far remained outside the trial and on which the defense has therefore not been able to cross-examine, but which cast various shadows on the testimony of Perlasca, who, among other things, first reported having received only one message from Chaouqui — and then testified he had received about 15 of them, spread out over time.

The prosecutor, Diddi, instead showed 126 messages.

Also, there is the question of the dinner with Becciu at the Scarpone restaurant and the suspicion that there was an interception of activity in the restaurant by the Vatican — without informing the Italian police. There is no counter-proof of this suspicion, only that Perlasca said he was convinced they were recording the dinner. Perlasca told the court: “I just had to inform.”

In the new year, both Chaouqui and Ciferri will be heard as witnesses. A key question will be how Chaouqui was so well-informed. She knew about the trial before it was public knowledge and could tell Ciferri when Perlasca was returning home. Who provided the information to Chaouqui? Was the Vatican gendarmerie involved?

It also was striking that at the beginning of Perlasca’s interrogation several gendarmes earmarked for testimony were present, including one Stefano De Santis, who managed the investigation and thus could not have been present because he was yet to be cross-examined. An interrogation of De Santis also was scheduled before the end of the year, but this was postponed for “reasons of service.”

Amid these and other developments before the court, the critical question is this: How credible will Monsignor Perlasca be considered in the final sentencing?

Gianfranco Mammì

On Dec. 1, the general director of the IOR, Gianfranco Mammì, was finally heard. His report led to the investigation and the trial.

The Secretariat of State had asked the Istituto di Opere di Religione to take over the loan taken out with Cheyne Capital through another loan.

At first, the IOR agreed to this request, only to backtrack three days later.

In between, Archbishop Edgar Pena Parra, who since August 2019 has been the successor to Becciu as deputy of the Secretariat of State, had the director of the IOR shadowed.

In the interrogation, Mammì said that the IOR could only provide loans in specific cases — and that he had felt pressured to provide the loan. He said the Vatican’s Financial Intelligence Authority (AIF) had not acted as a third party but lobbied the IOR to agree to the loan — even though, according to him, there was insufficient coverage for it.

Mammì was shown a document demonstrating the IOR was authorized to make loans under certain conditions. In response, the witness said this was true — but that the conditions had not been met.

The defense then read another document, which gave a positive opinion on the loan to the Secretariat of State while also bringing out some critical issues.

“You might say that the technical opinion is positive, but for me, it’s negative,” was Mammì’s dry answer.

Mammì also said that he had attended a meeting in the Secretariat of State after having made the complaint about the London deal and that he had not said anything about confidentiality. When asked if he had said it before the complaint, he denied having said so.

The IOR director’s testimony was at times precise and aggressive but also provided apparent contradictions and personal opinions. It remains to be understood why Mammì ultimately decided to file his report, given the IOR has provided more substantial loans in the past.

Whether the IOR had the necessary liquidity for the loan in times of shrinking budgets is another open question.

The other witnesses

Antonio Di Iorio, an official and notary of the Apostolic Chamber, and Luca Dal Fabbro, a well-known manager, have also been heard these days.

Di lorio said he simply signed papers without knowing their contents.

Dal Fabbro explained that the Secretariat of State had called him first to assess the situation in London, so much so that he let it be known that the shares of the broker Gianluigi Torzi, who had taken over the management, were the only ones with voting rights. Then, he had also advised the Secretariat of State on other properties he had in London, and finally, he had renegotiated the loans.

And then there was Fabio Perugia, a consultant, who was involved in introducing the Valeur Group to Cardinal Becciu.

Valeur is a Switzerland-based asset management, advisory, trading, and real estate company.

It appears Valeur wanted to take over the London building and complained that every offer to do so was knocked back by the Vatican. Perugia, who had been Gianluigi Torzi’s partner for about six months, let it be understood that this was due to misconduct in the Secretariat of State.

Last but not least, the testimony of Cardinal Oscar Cantoni on Becciu’s alleged attempted bribery of Perlasca should be noted. Cantoni testified that Becciu asked him to speak to Perlasca, without threatening anything or anyone.

Some conclusions, but many questions

In summary, many questions surrounding this trial against Cardinal Becciu and others accused of financial crimes remain unanswered.

How credible is Perlasca as a witness? What is the role of Francesca Immacolata Chaouqui? Who are her contacts in the Vatican? What are they trying to achieve? What is the role of the IOR in the affair?

And finally: Is there a risk of questioning the impartiality of the promoter of justice because he is apparently receiving messages from parties close to those involved in the trial?

The Vatican‘s prosecutor himself made known the situation regarding Chaouqui only before the second interrogation of Perlasca. In contrast, before the start of the other interrogation, with timing that could be subject to questions, he played the phone call of Becciu to the pope, even if these were part of another proceeding in Italy and not part of the Vatican trial.

While no one knows when and how the trial will end, one thing seems clear: The credibility at stake is not just that of the accused.


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About Andrea Gagliarducci, Catholic News Agency 43 Articles
Andrea Gagliarducci is Vatican analyst for Catholic News Agency.

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