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ROME – Just a week after the Vatican’s first auditor general and his deputy filed a $9.6 million lawsuit for wrongful dismissal, the Vatican’s legal system has seemingly sought to hamstring the claim by refusing to certify the plaintiffs’ chosen lawyer.
Speaking to journalists Nov. 17, Libero Milone, the Vatican’s first auditor general, who appointed in 2015 and fired in 2017 along with his deputy Ferruccio Panicco, said that a week after filing their suit, their lawyer had been rejected by officials in charge of certifying attorneys to appear before Vatican courts.
The request to initiate legal proceedings against the Vatican’s Secretariat of State was filed with the Vatican tribunal last Wednesday, Nov. 9, and made public a day later.
Milone said he met with the Vatican’s chief prosecutor Alessandro Diddi on Monday, Nov. 14, to discuss the case, and two days later he was informed that his lawyer, Romano Vaccarella, had not been authorized. Vaccarella is a veteran Italian jurist and a former judge on the country’s Constitutional Court, who’s also represented former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi in numerous civil cases.
By rejecting Milone’s attorney, in effect the Vatican has made it harder for the lawsuit to proceed. Milone provided a copy of the letter of request submitted by Vaccarella to the relevant Vatican official with a handwritten note “not authorized” at the bottom.
Milone was hired by Pope Francis in 2015 as the Holy See’s first-ever auditor general, with the promise of direct contact with the pope and his top aides, and with broad access to the Holy See’s various accounts and portfolios.
In the lawsuit, made against various parties in the Vatican’s Secretariat of State, Milone had argued that when he and Panicco were forced out in 2017, just two years into a 5-year mandate, they were extorted by the then-head of the Vatican gendarmes, Domenico Giani – who would later himself be forced out over a high-profile London real estate scandal – and forced to resign or risk arrest and legal repercussions for their investigations and auditing of Vatican finances.
Panicco was also seeking $3.6 million in damages for health reasons, saying Vatican police while raiding the auditing office in 2017 confiscated personal medical records containing diagnostic tests related to a cancer diagnosis, which he then had to redo, setting back is treatment by months, after the Vatican refused to return the records.
In the past, Milone has repeatedly pointed the finger at Italian Cardinal Angelo Becciu, former sostituto of the Vatican Secretariat of State, a role similar to chief of staff, saying Becciu not only resisted but thwarted his efforts to conduct the external audit of the Secretariat of State’s asset portfolio, worth over $600 million.
Becciu himself is currently on trial for various financial crimes alongside nine others for over the Holy See’s now infamous investment in a London property that went south, costing the Vatican millions.
In his press conference Thursday, Milone again accused Becciu and a handful of other Vatican characters who are also on trial for the London property deal of orchestrating his ouster.
Speaking to journalists, Milone said they uncovered various instances of financial misconduct, including personal withdrawals from Holy See accounts; money laundering; the withdrawal of Vatican money for private use and the renovations of private apartments; and the illicit financing of Italian parties for the 2013 elections using money from the Vatican-run Bambino Gesu children’s hospital.
Milone insisted that he never acted outside of the parameters of his office, saying he has documentation proving he acted within his competence, and said his efforts to conduct the audit were consistently blocked.
Notably, he referred to an inquiry he attempted to make of the Secretariat of State’s investment portfolio in March 2016 in which he was shown a Microsoft Excel file containing a list of real estate investments worth millions, including the now-infamous London property at the heart of the Vatican’s ongoing trial.
When he asked for documentation outlining the financial paper trail on these properties, Milone said the request went unanswered, and he pointed the finger at lay Italian businessman Fabrizio Tirabassi and Italian Monsignor Alberto Perlasca, both of whom are defendants in the current trial.
Milone also said that his requests for a balance sheet on Vatican-owned property in Rome were ignored, and he reported numerous conflicts of interest and instances of Vatican officials approving their own requests.
He said that when he and Panicco were fired, they were accused of spying and were told that they had been the subject of a 7-month investigation by the Vatican gendarmes, who had compiled a briefing on their alleged misconduct.
However, Milone said neither he nor Panicco ever saw the briefing supposedly outlining the details of what they did wrong, as it had been placed under the pontifical secret, meaning it was illegal to reveal its contents.
Since his 2017 ouster, Milone said he has written to Pope Francis seven times asking to be heard to defend himself, but none of these letters have been answered, and he does not know if the pope read or even received them.
After meeting with Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin – who Milone said had been unaware of his ouster until after it already happened – earlier this year, Parolin said he would seek to have the pontifical secret from the briefing lifted. However, Milone said he has so far heard nothing.
He also hit-back against allegations that he contracted an external firm to collect information on the private lives of Vatican personnel, saying Italian laywoman Cecilia Morogna, who like Becciu is also from Sardinia and who is also standing trial over the London property, was charged with this task after being brought in by Becciu.
Asked whether he believes the Vatican is ever capable of conducting a true Vatican reform, Milone voice doubt, saying that as far as his case is concerned, “we can’t know what will happen tomorrow,” but that if one wants to do business inside Vatican walls, “normal” rules and international standards don’t apply.
Follow Elise Ann Allen on Twitter: @eliseannallen