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Five charged in Vatican leaks investigation

Italian journalist Emiliano Fittipaldi, author of Avarice (AP)

A Vatican judge on Saturday charged five people, including two journalists and a high-ranking Vatican monsignor, in a scandal involving leaked documents that informed two books alleging financial malfeasance in the Church’s bureaucracy.

Two former members of the Pope’s financial reforms commission and a newly identified assistant were charged disclosing confidential Vatican information and documents, while two journalists were charged on a charge of soliciting and exerting pressure to obtain the information, according to the indictments released by the Vatican on Saturday.

Two of those charged, Mgr Lucio Vallejo Balda and Francesca Chaouqui, both chosen by Pope Francis to help overhaul Vatican finances, were arrested by the Vatican earlier this month. Balda, who was secretary of the commission, is being held while Chaouqui, a public relations specialist, was released after agreeing to cooperate with the investigation. The charge also identifies for the first time an assistant to Balda, Nicola Maio, as under suspicion.

The three Vatican insiders also face an additional charge of forming a criminal organisation.

Journalists Gianluigi Nuzzi and Emiliano Fittipaldi both published books this month citing Vatican documents and detailing waste, mismanagement and greed at the Vatican and the resistance Pope Francis faces in trying to clean it up.

Reporters without Borders this week issued a statement saying the journalists “just exercised their right to provide information in the public interest and should not be treated as criminals in a country that supposedly respects media freedom.”

Nuzzi, who refused a Vatican summons for questioning over his book, Merchants in the Temple, was defiant in a message on Twitter. “You can do what you want but as long as the world exists, there will be journalists who report uncomfortable news,” he wrote.

Fittipaldi, author of Avarice, appeared for questioning but refused to give any answers, citing Italian law on protecting sources. “This is not a trial against me, today the Vatican is putting on trial the freedom of the press,” he said in a message on Facebook.

If the Vatican tribunal ultimately convicts the two authors, it will come down to a political question as to whether the Holy See will request their extradition from Italy – and whether Italy will oblige.

Leaking Vatican documents carries a possible sentence of six months to two years in prison and a €2,000 ($2,100) fine under a Vatican law enacted after an earlier scandal during Benedict XVI’s papacy. If it is determined that the leaks harmed the Vatican’s fundamental interests, the sentence can be raised to eight years in prison and the Vatican would seek to apply the criminal code whether or not the crime occurred within Vatican City and regardless of whether the offender was a citizen of the city state or not.

Fittipaldi told reporters this week that prosecutors said they were seeking four to eight years against him.

The trial, set to begin on Tuesday, will be open to the press, as was the case in the trial over of documents leaked during the papacy of Benedict XVI.

The earlier scandal erupted with the publication of another book by Nuzzi detailing corruption and mismanagement at the Holy See.