ROME – Lawyers for one of the defendants in the Vatican’s “trial of the century” for financial crimes not only insisted that their client is innocent in closing arguments Friday, but also resurrected due process objections which have been rejected by the court but which continue to haunt wider impressions of the prosecution.
The three-judge panel in the case, led by presiding judge Giuseppe Pignatone, has already heard closing arguments from prosecutors and civil parties, and is now hearing closing presentations from defense attorneys.
Self-described security consultant Cecilia Marogna, a friend and associate of Italian Cardinal Angelo Becciu, is charged with misappropriating part of roughly $600,000 in Vatican funds set aside for ransoming a Colombian missionary nun who was kidnapped by Islamic militants in Mali in 2017.
According to prosecutors, Margona diverted roughly $70,000 of those funds for personal expenses in luxury hotels and high-end fashion shops. Alessandro Diddi, an Italian attorney serving as the Vatican’s Promoter of Justice, has asked that the court sentence Marogna to four years and nine months in prison.
In a brief presentation, lawyers Giuseppe Di Sera and Fiorino Ruggio insisted there’s no proof those disputed expenses ever occurred, such as bank records, saying the only evidence that’s been produced is an Excel spread sheet surfaced by an Italian television program which Ruggio described as a “documentary scam.”
Di Sera and Ruggio also argued that the indictment against Marogna is flawed, since she’s charged with embezzlement, yet under Vatican law only public officials can be charged with such an offense, a status which Marogna, as an outside consultant, never held.
The lawyers also noted that no one from the Vatican, including the Secretariat of State, ever requested the restitution of funds allegedly diverted for illegitimate purposes, something they asserted would have been done should there actually have been misconduct.
While those arguments apply largely only to Marogna, the procedural objections raised by Di Sera are likely to surface in other defense summations as well, and they remain a matter of controversy in public discussion of the case.
“The rules of due process have been violated” in this trial, Di Sera told the court, citing among other things the fact that series of 126 WhatsApp messages between Diddi, the prosecutor, and Genoveffa Ciferri, a consecrated secular Franciscan and friend of a principal witness in the trial, have never been disclosed to the defense.
Di Sera also objected that there are witnesses defense attorneys wanted to question who they were unable to call, including Luciano Carta, a former vice-director of the Italian security services who had exchanges with Marogna, and also Italian Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican’s Secretariat of State.
Attorneys for other defendants likewise have objected that although Parolin approved virtually all of thew transactions that are now objects of indictments, they have not been permitted to examine him during the trial.
Di Sera and Ruggio also argued that they should have been allowed an opportunity to interrogate Francesca Immacolata Chaouqui, a former PR officer for Ernst & Young who was convicted by a Vatican court in 2016 for her role in the “Vatileaks” scandal. It emerged during the trial that both Chaouqui and Ciferri had coached the prosecution’s key witness, Italian Monsignor Alberto Perlasca, in some of his responses.
Di Sera suggested that Chaouqui also may have played a role in launching the initial accusations against Marogna, but claimed the defense team was never given the opportunity to explore Chaouqui’s role.
The next hearing in the trial, which is scheduled for the morning of Oct. 19, will feature the closing arguments of attorneys representing Fabrizio Tirabassi, a former official in the Secretariat of State who’s been indicted for his role in the controversial purchase of a former Harrod’s warehouse in London.