Italian laywoman Francesca Chaouqui arriving the trial at the Vatican on March 14. Chaouqui is one of five people on trial for leaking confidential Vatican documents that were published in two books. (CNS photo/Alessandro Bianchi, Reuters) CNS photo/Courtesy Alessandro Bianchi, Reuters

At Vatican trial, former consultant denies leaking financial documents

By  Junno Arocho Esteves, Catholic News Service
  • April 7, 2016

VATICAN CITY – A former consultant to a pontifical commission vehemently denied giving private documents regarding the Vatican's financial reform to two journalists. 

Francesca Chaouqui, a member of the former Pontifical Commission for Reference on the Economic-Administrative Structure of the Holy See, replied, "absolutely not" when asked by a Vatican prosecutor if she gave documentation to Italian journalist Gianluigi Nuzzi.

She also denied having had a sexual relationship with Spanish Msgr. Lucio Vallejo Balda, the secretary of the Prefecture for the Economic Affairs of the Holy See.

The trial resumed April 6 after the court granted Chaouqui, who is pregnant, a three-week postponement after her doctor recommended 20 days of bed rest. 

Chaouqui is on trial along with Vallejo Balda, Nicola Maio, the monsignor's former assistant; and two journalists: Nuzzi, author of Merchants in the Temple" and Emiliano Fittipaldi, author of Avarice.

The monsignor, Chaouqui and Maio were accused of "committing several illegal acts of divulging news and documents concerning fundamental interests of the Holy See and (Vatican City) State." Nuzzi and Fittipaldi were accused of "soliciting and exercising pressure, especially on Vallejo Balda, in order to obtain confidential documents and news."

Prior to taking her turn on the stand, Chaouqui posted on her Facebook page that despite doctor's advice that she refrain from "subjecting herself to the physical and mental stress of the trial," she looked forward to having her day in court and "finally being able to speak." 

"Today is the day of truth. The day I owe to Pope Francis, to my Church, to my family, to the whole world," she wrote. 

Repeatedly throughout her testimony, Chaouqui strayed from giving direct answers to the prosecutors' questions, saying that she wished to address rumours and news reports. At various moments, she was reminded by Judge Giuseppe della Torre that the witness stand was not a "theatre stage" and to respond only to the questions. Responding to her contention that her testimony was her only opportunity to defend herself from various media reports, the judge assured her of the court's impartiality.

Chaouqui testified that she simply introduced Vallejo Balda to Nuzzi, a journalist she "held in high esteem." She said that any leaked information on the commission's work was provided by the Spanish monsignor and that Nuzzi never asked her questions on her role, access to documents or for information. 

Regarding reports of an improper relationship, Chaouqui denied the allegations, adding that over time she shared a close friendship with the Spanish monsignor resulting in him confiding personal secrets. She said that although Vallejo Balda alluded falsely that they shared an intimate moment, she would still not divulge what was said in private. 
"The (priestly) habit he still wears has value," she said. 

On the trial's second day of testimony March 15, Vallejo Balda testified that he felt he was being threatened by Chaouqui and had little choice but to give confidential documents to the two Italian reporters. Testifying that he knew Chaouqui and Nuzzi were friends, the Spanish monsignor said he gave the documents to Nuzzi in order to win his trust and stave off any threat Chaouqui posed to him. 

"For me, giving those documents was a way to pay for my freedom," he said.

Vallejo Balda cited a Whatsapp conversation in which Chaouqui told him: "I will destroy you in all the newspapers and you know that I can do it."

"If that isn't a concrete threat, (I don't know what is)," Vallejo Balda told the court.

When asked about that conversation April 6, Chaouqui said she sent the message out of anger after a friend told her Vallejo Balda was speaking ill of her and not because she wished to "extort something" from him. 

“What would I want to extort from him? If a mouse approached him, he would have given it the documents," she said.

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