Sunday 23 October 2016

Vatican court rejects journalist's bid to drop leaks charges

Published 24/11/2015 | 11:31

Italian journalist Gianluigi Nuzzi arrives at the Vatican (AP)
Italian journalist Gianluigi Nuzzi arrives at the Vatican (AP)

A Vatican tribunal has rejected a journalist's request to dismiss charges against him for publishing confidential documents.

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Italian journalists Emiliano Fittipaldi and Gianluigi Nuzzi are accused of having published books about Vatican waste, greed and mismanagement that were based in part on confidential Holy See documents.

Alongside them in the courtroom on Tuesday were three people, including a high-ranking Vatican monsignor, accused of leaking them the information.

The trial opened amid appeals by media watchdog groups, including the Committee to Protect Journalists, Reporters Without Borders and the OSCE, for the Vatican to drop the charges against the reporters on the grounds that a free press is a fundamental human right.

The Foreign Press Association in Rome and the association of Vatican-accredited media, AIGAV, also joined the protest.

The hearing was held in the intimate courtroom of the Vatican's criminal tribunal, decorated with a photo of Pope Francis facing the defendants and a crucifix behind the bench.

After the charges were read out, Mr Fittipaldi asked to approach the bench and read out a statement to the four judges.

He said he decided to show up out of respect for the court even though in Italy he would never have been accused of the charges he faces, much less put on trial.

He noted that he is not accused of publishing anything false or defamatory, merely news - "an activity that is protected and guaranteed by the Italian constitution, by the European Convention on Human Rights and by the Universal Declaration on Human Rights".

Assistant prosecutor Roberto Zannotti responded that freedom of the press was not on trial but rather the "illicit behaviour" of the journalists in obtaining the information.

Mr Fittipaldi's book Avarice, and Mr Nuzzi's book Merchants In The Temple, both published earlier this month, detail waste and mismanagement in the Vatican administration, the greed of some cardinals and bishops and the resistance Pope Francis is facing in trying to clean it up.

Both books were based on documents produced by a reform commission Francis appointed to get a handle on the Vatican's financial holdings and propose reforms so that more money could be given to the poor.

The three other people on trial were affiliated with the commission: Monsignor Angelo Lucio Vallejo Balda was its number two, Francesca Chaouqui was a member and outside public relations expert, and Nicola Maio was Mr Balda's assistant.

All three are accused of forming a criminal organisation and of procuring and leaking confidential documents.

Mr Nuzzi and Mr Fittipaldi are accused of publishing those documents and of "soliciting and exercising pressure, above all on Mr Vallejo Balda, to obtain the documents and other reserved news", according to prosecutors.

In his statement, Mr Fittipaldi said the accusations against him were so vague that he could not defend himself against them, noting that prosecutors have not even spelled out which documents he is alleged to have obtained illicitly.

His lawyer, Lucia Musso, issued a formal motion to dismiss the charges against him on those grounds.

After some 45 minutes of deliberations, the president of the tribunal, Judge Giuseppe Della Torre, rejected Mr Fittipaldi's motion.

The trial resumes on Monday with testimony from the defendants.

Press Association

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