'VatiLeaks' prosecutors request jail time for defendants

Junno Arocho Esteves

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As the Vatican trial of five people accused of complicity in leaking private documents moved toward a conclusion, Vatican prosecutors requested that four of the five defendants be convicted and that three of them serve jail time.

Giampiero Milano, the lead prosecutor, asked the court July 4 to deal the toughest punishment -- three years and nine months -- to Francesca Chaouqui, who he said "inspired and is responsible for the alleged conduct."

Chaouqui, a public relations specialist and a member of the former Pontifical Commission for Reference on the Economic-Administrative Structure of the Holy See, arrived at the courtroom with her newborn son, Pietro Elijah Antonio.

The prosecution also asked the court to drop all charges against Italian journalist Emiliano Fittipaldi, author of Avarice, due to lack of evidence during the criminal trial.

Fittipaldi and Gianluigi Nuzzi, author of Merchants in the Temple, are charged with soliciting the documents and exercising pressure on the other defendants, especially Msgr. Lucio Vallejo Balda, secretary of the Prefecture for the Economic Affairs of the Holy See. The prosecution requested a one year suspended sentence for Nuzzi.

Chaouqui, the monsignor and his former assistant, Nicola Maio, are charged with "divulging news and documents concerning fundamental interests" of the Vatican.

Prosecutors recommended that Msgr. Vallejo Balda be sentenced to three years and one month in jail for his role in the leak. They also requested a lighter sentence of one year and nine months for Maio due to "his limited role in the matter."

Chaouqui wrote on her Facebook page that she was bringing her newborn son with her to court "so that one day he, too, will fight for the church," which is what she claimed her intention was as a member of the commission working to reform Vatican finances. The sentence, she added, "will determine his fate" as well as her own.

After the prosecution made its sentencing request, she told reporters, "It is surreal. What else can I say?"

Despite the request for his acquittal, Fittipaldi contended the accusations against him and Nuzzi amounted to "a targeted attack against freedom of the press."

"The fact that more evidence was found against Nuzzi than against me does not change one bit my negative judgment of the law that has been applied," Fittipaldi told journalists. "I hope that at the end of this trial, whichever way it goes, Pope Francis will have the coherence to immediately" change the law.

Lawyers for the defendants made their closing arguments July 5, beginning with Emanuela Bellardini, Msgr. Vallejo Balda's attorney.

Bellardini reviewed the testimony regarding her client's state of mind and the pressure he faced to release the documents, particularly after receiving threatening and insulting messages from Chaouqui. The lawyer read some of the messages, which included profanities, to the Vatican judges.

She called on the court to acquit the Spanish monsignor of all charges or alternatively, an acquittal for the crime of conspiracy and divulging confidential documents due to lack of evidence. However, Bellardini also requested that the court give the minimum sentence should Msgr. Vallejo Balda be found guilty of disclosing private information.

Laura Sgro, Chaoqui's lawyer, said her client was facing a "trial by the press" and was unjustly depicted by court witnesses as "crazy, dangerous" and "bipolar."

Reminding the court of Msgr. Vallejo Balda's admission that he alone passed along documents to Nuzzi, Sgro requested the court to acquit Chaouqui of all charges.

Closing arguments by lawyers for Maio, Nuzzi and Fittipaldi were to continue July 6 before Giuseppe Della Torre, head of the tribunal of the Vatican City State, and three judges were to deliberate and reach a final verdict.

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