(Updated May 25)
By Junno Arocho Esteves
Catholic News Service
VATICAN CITY (CNS) — A former consultant to a pontifical commission who denied to a Vatican court that she leaked documents about the Vatican’s financial reform had admitted to sending the documents when she was first interrogated, a Vatican policeman said.
Stefano DeSantis, an officer investigating the leaking of the documents, testified May 24 that Francesca Chaouqui told Vatican police officials she sent documents regarding the Vatican Asset Management (VAM) to Gianluigi Nuzzi, author of “Merchants in the Temple.”
“We never assumed that she gave the documents, she admitted to it,” DeSantis told the court.
Chaouqui is on trial along with Msgr. Vallejo Balda, secretary of the Prefecture for the Economic Affairs of the Holy See, and Nicola Maio, the monsignor’s former assistant, for “several illegal acts” of leaking Vatican documents.
Nuzzi and Emiliano Fittipaldi, author of “Avarice” are accused of “soliciting and exercising pressure, especially on (Msgr.) Vallejo Balda,” to obtain the documents.
The trial session May 24 began with the cross-examination of Gianluca Gauzzi, deputy commissioner of the Vatican police, by the defendants’ lawyers regarding his testimony May 16 on the contents of Msgr. Vallejo Balda’s computer and telephones.
When asked by Laura Sgro, Chaouqui’s lawyer, about the examination of the WhatsApp chats between Chaouqui and Msgr. Vallejo Balda, Gauzzi stated the police saw the message exchange on the Spanish monsignor’s phone.
Chaouqui, he added, deleted the messaging application from her phone before handing it over to the Vatican’s IT experts as part of the investigation.
Taking the stand after the deputy commissioner, DeSantis said Vatican police intensified their investigation after a break-in at the office of the Prefecture for the Economic Affairs of the Holy See and discovered that several hard disks appeared to have been copied.
Investigators questioned the prefecture’s IT technicians and employees to verify whether they transferred the computer’s content and discovered suspicious messages and emails sent by Msgr. Vallejo Balda to Nuzzi and Chaouqui.
When the commission’s work was ended, DeSantis said, Chaouqui seemed to be upset that she wasn’t given another position at the Vatican, prompting her husband, Corrado Lanino, to send Msgr. Vallejo Balda a message that could appear threatening.
“Be careful humiliating her because she can be dangerous given her contacts,” DeSantis said Lanino told Msgr. Vallejo Balda in one email exchange.
Regarding Chaouqui’s initial confession of sending documents to Nuzzi, DeSantis told the court that she exhibited “exemplary behavior” when she gave the Vatican police her formal statement and she even made clarifications to her formal declaration before signing it.
During cross-examination, Chaouqui’s lawyer argued that while she did admit sending documents to Nuzzi, she did not mention passing along “secret” or “private” documents in her admission.
In a declaration made to the court, Chaouqui said she assumed the documents the police asked about were invitations to a controversial banquet held on the prefecture’s veranda during the canonization Mass for St. John Paul II and St. John XXIII. The veranda overlooks St. Peter’s Square.
DeSantis countered saying that as a member of a commission that handles sensitive financial information and that answers directly to Pope Francis, Chaouqui should have known better.
He also told the court that following Chaouqui’s arrest, she revealed she was pregnant and the Vatican police allowed her to stay with her husband at a Salesian house near the Vatican. DeSantis said that although she seemed fine upon her arrival, on two consecutive nights she said she was feeling ill and asked to go to the hospital.
The police escorted her to a nearby hospital and were later reprimanded by a doctor for bringing a perfectly healthy patient into the emergency room while others in more dire circumstances had to wait, the police officer testified.
“The doctor said, ‘For me, this women can even walk home on her own two legs,'” DeSantis recalled. After the second trip to the hospital, Vatican police allowed her to go home.
Although Chaouqui, whose due date was in early June, was present for only half of the May 24 session, she used social media to defend herself.
“The game goes on in a war where the one who will lose is the church,” she wrote on her Facebook page. “I am here, more than ever, awaiting the verdict. Then it will be my turn to have the (last) word from the pages of my book.”
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Follow Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju.