Vat­i­can court throws out ob­jec­tions to trial of jour­nal­ists

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

VAT­I­CAN CITY: A con­tro­ver­sial trial of two in­ves­tiga­tive jour­nal­ists and three oth­ers in­volved in the lat­est Vat­i­can leaks scan­dal be­gan yes­ter­day with judges re­ject­ing an ap­peal for the charges against one of the re­porters to be dis­missed.

Ad­dress­ing the open­ing hear­ing in a rarely-used Vat­i­can court­room, jour­nal­ist Emil­iano Fit­ti­paldi said he was “in­cred­u­lous” at find­ing him­self in the city state’s court on charges that do not ex­ist in Italy. “I did not write any­thing false or defam­a­tory,” he told the court, ar­gu­ing that his right to pub­lish news based on ma­te­rial ob­tained from se­cret sources was pro­tected by the Ital­ian con­sti­tu­tion and in­ter­na­tional hu­man rights con­ven­tions.

Fel­low jour­nal­ist Gian­luigi Nuzzi de­scribed the trial, in which all five de­fen­dants face up to eight years in prison, as “Kafkaesque and ab­surd.”

Nuzzi, who was in­stru­men­tal in break­ing the first big Vat­i­can leaks story in 2012, said that he had only met his court-ap­pointed lawyer for the first time one hour be­fore the trial be­gan and had not had time to even read the in­dict­ment doc­u­ments.

Fit­ti­paldi said the charges against him were framed so vaguely it was im­pos­si­ble to know what he was ac­tu­ally sup­posed to have done. Re­ply­ing for the pros­e­cu­tion, Roberto Zan­notti said the case was “not one about the free­dom of the press” but rather about the way the jour­nal­ists put pres­sure on the three other de­fen­dants to feed them clas­si­fied ma­te­rial.

“The charges clearly de­scribe con­duct in­volv­ing the use of pres­sure to ob­tain doc­u­ments and in­for­ma­tion il­lic­itly,” the pros­e­cu­tor said.

The judges threw out Fit­ti­paldi’s ob­jec­tion af­ter a 45-minute ad­journ­ment.

The case was then ad­journed un­til Mon­day, when Span­ish priest Lu­cio An­gel Vallejo Balda, cur­rently be­ing held in a Vat­i­can cell, will take the stand. The priest ar­rived at court in a po­lice car, meet­ing his lawyer for the first time at the en­trance. By then, Ni­cola Maio, Vallejo Balda’s as­sis­tant, was al­ready in­side the court­room, pac­ing up and down ner­vously.

Their co-ac­cused, PR ex­pert Francesca Chaouqui, mean­while was por­ing over a doc­u­ment which ap­peared to con­tain tran­scripts of What­sApp con­ver­sa­tions be­tween Fit­ti­paldi and Vallejo Balda.

‘Ridicu­lous charges’ All five ac­cused have been charged with ob­tain­ing and dis­clos­ing confidential pa­pers “con­cern­ing the fun­da­men­tal in­ter­ests of the Vat­i­can State”, un­der puni­tive leg­is­la­tion in­tro­duced in 2013 and be­ing used for the first time.

Vallejo Balda, Chaouqui and Maio are ad­di­tion­ally charged with or­gan­ised crim­i­nal as­so­ci­a­tion in or­der to ob­tain the doc­u­ments they al­legedly leaked to the jour­nal­ists.

The law was en­acted a year af­ter Pope Bene­dict XVI’s but­ler leaked dam­ag­ing in­for­ma­tion about Vat­i­can in-fight­ing which plunged the Holy See into cri­sis and, it is widely be­lieved, con­trib­uted to the pon­tiff’s de­ci­sion to re­tire.

Nuzzi and Fit­ti­paldi used the ma­te­rial they ob­tained as the ba­sis for books de­pict­ing fi­nan­cial ir­reg­u­lar­i­ties and un­con­trolled spend­ing in the Holy See. Nuzzi’s book also con­tains a tran­script of se­cret record­ings of Pope Fran­cis vo­cif­er­ously com­plain­ing about the Vat­i­can throw­ing money away through poor fi­nan­cial man­age­ment. Both books sug­gest Church money raised through do­na­tions in­tended for char­i­ta­ble oper­a­tions was di­verted to help pay for lav­ish ren­o­va­tions of se­nior clergy’s grace-and-favour apart­ments. The Vat­i­can has not de­nied the ve­rac­ity of the record­ing of Fran­cis vent­ing his fury, or the au­then­tic­ity of the doc­u­ments.

In­stead, of­fi­cials have framed the rev­e­la­tions as old news based on prob­lems which Fran­cis has al­ready ad­dressed through his re­forms, a clam­p­down on profli­gacy and a clean-up of the Vat­i­can bank. The Ital­ian jour­nal­ists could have de­clined to at­tend the trial and forced the Vat­i­can to ini­ti­ate what would have been com­plex, po­ten­tially em­bar­rass­ing, ex­tra­di­tion pro­ceed­ings.

But they both said they had de­cided to ap­pear to ex­pose the dra­co­nian na­ture of their pros­e­cu­tion. “To have not come would have given the im­pres­sion I was hid­ing from charges that I don’t ac­cept,” Fit­ti­paldi told AFP dur­ing a break in the pro­ceed­ings. “I find them ridicu­lous and I wanted to come here to de­fend my­self.” Nuzzi added: “I’ve done noth­ing wrong. I have noth­ing to hide and I wanted to have the pos­si­bil­ity of see­ing what I am charged with.” —AFP

ROME: Ital­ian jour­nal­ist and writer Gian­luigi Nuzzi at­tends a press con­fer­ence at the For­eign Press Club (Stampa Estera) in Rome yes­ter­day af­ter the open­ing of his trial for the pub­li­ca­tion of clas­si­fied doc­u­ments. — AFP

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