Cardinal blasts vendettas, 'plots against me' in Vatican financial trial

VATICAN CITY (AP) — A Vatican cardinal on trial in the Holy See’s big financial crimes case complained Friday that he can't properly defend himself from “the nightmare of these accusations” because prosecutors have withheld key evidence from the defense.

Cardinal Angelo Becciu spoke out in court after Judge Giuseppe Pignatone rejected his lawyers’ latest appeal for access to the material. In a decree read aloud Friday, Pignatone sided with prosecutors who have argued that the redacted interrogation transcripts and WhatsApp chats are now part of another investigation and must remain secret.

Becciu, who was once one of the most influential Vatican cardinals and a close aide to Pope Francis, said he maintained his faith in the Vatican tribunal but was “bitter” and “perplexed” by the judge’s decision.

“The defense has been demeaned — it cannot fully exercise the right of defense if it doesn’t have all the material,” he told the court.

Becciu is on trial along with nine other people in a sprawling case that is focused on the Vatican’s 350 million-euro investment in a London property but also includes charges of embezzlement surrounding Becciu’s donation of Vatican funds to a charity run by his brother. Becciu has denied wrongdoing, as have the other defendants.

From the start, defense lawyers have complained that the Vatican City State’s legal code has deprived their clients of basic rights afforded defendants in modern countries. Even Pope Francis’ role in the case — he modified the law four times in favor of prosecutors during the investigation — has been cited by defense lawyers as evidence that defendants can’t get a fair trial in an absolute monarchy where the pope wields supreme legislative, executive and judicial power.

Pignatone has routinely ruled against them and allowed the trial to go ahead.

The material prosecutors have withheld includes the full transcript of the interrogations of a key prosecution witness, Monsignor Alberto Perlasca, as well as a series of 126 WhatsApp chats about him. Perlasca was the Vatican official most intimately involved in the London property deal and had been a key suspect early on in the investigation. But he turned into the prosecution’s star witness in August 2020 when he changed his story and turned on Becciu, his former boss.

The chats were entered into evidence last November, after Perlasca revealed in court under questioning that he began cooperating with prosecutors after he received threats and advice from a woman, Francesca Chaouqui, who herself had a known ax to grind against the cardinal.

The suggestion that Chaouqui may have coached Perlasca to turn on Becciu to seek revenge against him threw into question the integrity of the investigation.

The WhatsApp chats were texts exchanged between Chaouqui and a Perlasca family friend. Becciu’s lawyers wanted access to them because they believed they could help show that Perlasca was manipulated into fabricating claims against the cardinal.

Prosecutor Alessandro Diddi entered the 126 texts into evidence, but redacted 119 of them. Pignatone agreed Friday that they would remain redacted, reasoning that prosecutors have the “unquestionable” right to keep secret evidence during an ongoing investigation.

Becciu voiced exasperation that he was on trial “suffering for three years, under the nightmare of these accusations” while Perlasca, Chaouqui and the family friend were free. Not only had they “plotted against me,” he said, but had implicated the pope in their vendetta by helping persuade him to fire Becciu and put him on trial.

“You cannot use the Holy Father to carry out such a malicious plan of revenge,” Becciu said.