Wednesday, November 22, 2023

UK court orders Vatican to turn over messages between Parolin, Peña Parra

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According to a report by the Telegraph, a UK court has ordered the Vatican to turn over confidential texts and emails between Italian , the top two officials in the Secretariat of State, despite claims from a Vatican official that doing so would constitute a “grave sin.”

The ruling came in a lawsuit filed in the UK by Italian-born financier Raffaele Mincione, one of ten defendants charged with various forms of embezzlement, fraud and misrepresentation in the Vatican’s long-running “trial of the century,” currently set for a verdict in mid-December.

Mincione, who does much of his business in the UK, originally filed suit against the Vatican’s Secretariat of State before the Court of Appeal for England and Wales in June 2020, alleging damage to his reputation as a result of the Vatican prosecution. 

The UK court originally held that the case should be delayed until the Vatican trial was over, but reversed that ruling in July 2022.

As part of the filings in the case, attorneys for Mincione and his Athena Capital Fund requested access to a series of emails and messages on platforms such as WhatsApp, Signal and Telegram between Parolin and Peña Parra related to the controversial purchase of a former Harrod’s warehouse in London which is at the heart of the Vatican prosecution.

In response, attorneys representing the Vatican submitted a witness statement from Father Carlos Fernando Diaz Paniagua, a former Costa Rican diplomat who later entered the priesthood and currently serves in the Secretariat of State.

In the statement, Diaz Paniagua said that the communications between Parolin and Peña Parra are covered by the “pontifical secret,” and said violation of that secrecy would constitute a “grave sin.”

“Public officials of the Holy See and the Vatican City make a solemn oath not to reveal matters under the pontifical secret regardless of any grave or urgent considerations or the need to protect the common good,” Diaz Paniagua said.

While states are generally protected from being compelled to turn over confidential materials by foreign courts under the legal concept of sovereign immunity, most nations, including the UK, make exceptions to the shield of immunity for commercial activity carried out by a foreign state on its territory.

In his statement, Diaz Paniagua also argued that it was neither reasonable nor proportionate to ask Parolin to surrender confidential documents, given his “peripheral role” in the London deal. 

That claim, however, stood in contrast with revelations that Parolin actually played an important role in the disputed transaction, including requesting a $165 million loan from the Vatican bank for the Secretariat of State to buy its way out of a high-interest mortgage on the London purchase.

Mincione told the Telegraph he welcomed the ruling.

“I am pleased that the Vatican’s attempts to keep these communications under wraps have failed. Once again, its legal position has immediately dissolved on contact with the laws of man,” the financier was quoted as saying.

“I have always maintained I did absolutely nothing wrong in relation to this transaction, and the Vatican has not been able to submit any evidence to prove otherwise. I hope that in due course, the full facts of this bizarre case can be shown to the wider world, and the true situation will become clear.”

It was not immediately clear whether attorneys representing the Vatican in the UK case plan to appeal the ruling to produce the communications between Parolin and Peña Parra.

In the meantime, Mincione’s lawyers in the Vatican prosecution are scheduled to present their closing arguments Dec. 4 and 5. 

Beginning Wednesday, the three-judge panel overseeing the case will hear from attorneys representing Italian Cardinal Angelo Becciu, Peña Parra’s predecessor as the number two official in the Secretariat of State, who’s charged not only in the London affair but also with two other unrelated forms of financial misconduct.

This is not the first time a court in the UK has been asked to examine the Vatican’s prosecution of the ten defendants in the London deal.

In March 2021, Judge Tony Baumgartner of Southwark Crown Court revered an order for seizure of assets belong to another Italian financier and defendant, Gianluigi Torzi, concluding that the Vatican’s filings in the case were full of “non-disclosures and misrepresentations” which Baumgartner called “appalling,” ruling that the Vatican had failed to demonstrate a reasonable basis to believe Torzi was guilty of criminal conduct.