Italian journalist Gianluigi Nuzzi arriving for the third hearing of the 'VatiLeaks' case at the Vatican Dec. 7, 2015. CNS photo/Courtesy of Massimo Percossi, EPA

Vatican prosecution witnesses testify at 'VatiLeaks' trial

By  Junno Arocho Esteves, Catholic News Service
  • April 29, 2016

VATICAN CITY – The first witnesses called by the Vatican prosecution in a case involving leaked documents testified about suspicious secret meetings and excessive photocopying of sensitive documents.

Three former and current staff members of the Prefecture for the Economic Affairs of the Holy See took the stand in the Vatican courtroom in late April during the trial of Spanish Msgr. Lucio Vallejo Balda, his former executive secretary and assistant, Nicola Maio, and Francesca Chaouqui, a member of the former Pontifical Commission for Reference on the Economic-Administrative Structure of the Holy See (COSEA).

The defendants are accused of leaking documents about Vatican finances and financial reform to Italian journalists Gianluigi Nuzzi and Emiliano Fittipaldi.

Stefano Fralleoni, former accountant general of the prefecture, took the stand April 26, and said COSEA's investigations into the Vatican's finances, including those of the prefecture, caused a "fracture" within the office's staff. Fralleoni said he felt he was considered an "enemy" by Vallejo Balda and Msgr. Alfredo Abbondi, another official who worked at the prefecture.

Although not members of the commission, Abbondi and Maio often would meet behind closed doors with Vallejo Balda and Chaouqui, which led to further suspicions and tensions among the prefecture staff, Fralleoni said.

Chaouqui was present in the office at least twice a week, he testified, and it seemed she wielded "great influence over Msgr. Vallejo (Balda) and that he cared a lot about her judgments."

Fralleoni, who was let go by the prefecture in 2013 due to a conflict of interest with his role in a foundation for the Vatican-related Bambino Gesu pediatric hospital, said that after Nuzzi's book, Merchants in the Temple, was published, he suspected the prefecture's offices were bugged.

"It was as if someone had not only listened to me but also filmed me," he said, adding that even his "gestures" and conversations during a coffee break were described in great detail.

Nuzzi and Fittipaldi, author of Avarice, also are on trial, accused by the Vatican of soliciting the documents and exercising pressure on the defendants, especially Vallejo Balda.

"I have been told (the offices of) the prefecture were bugged, but I cannot confirm that," Fralleoni told the court.

Paola Monaco, the secretary of the former president of the prefecture, Cardinal Giuseppe Versaldi, and Paola Pellegrino, the prefecture's archivist, testified in the Vatican courtroom April 28.

Both said the cordial atmosphere of the office broke down once Vallejo Balda started working with COSEA and, particularly, with Chaouqui. They also stated they wrote letters to Pope Francis describing the tense situation.

However, Pellegrino told the court she became suspicious when Vallejo Balda hired a clerk whose sole task was photocopying documents for several months.
"I saw those documents again in the books published by Nuzzi and Fittipaldi, particularly those relating to saints' causes," Pellegrino said. Nuzzi had quoted COSEA as saying there was "insufficient oversight of the cash-flow for canonizations." Pope Francis approved tighter financial regulations for the causes in March.

With all of the photocopying, Pellegrino said, she suspected Vallejo Balda was "creating his own parallel archive."

Fearing they would be held responsible for copying private documents, Pellegrino, along with Fralleoni and another employee, Fabio Schiaffi, decided to write two formal affidavits detailing the suspicious activities in the office.

She also told the courtroom that sealed envelopes containing passwords to the prefecture's computers were found opened in the Spanish monsignor's office.
The Vatican prosecution will continue its interrogation of witnesses when the trial resumes May 7.

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