VatiLeaks trial postponed, main suspects exchange low blows

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A key hearing in the VatiLeaks 2 trial over leaks related to alleged financial scandals in the Vatican was Monday postponed by a week to give a new defence lawyer time to study the case.

Main suspects Monsignor Lucio Vallejo Balda and Francesca Chaouqui were to be questioned, but presiding judge Giuseppe Dalla Torre at the Vatican court rescheduled the hearing for December 7 after Chaouqui showed up with a new counsel.

Laura Sgro replaced Agnese Camilli, who was a court-appointed lawyer, the Vatican said in a statement.

Vallejo Balda, a Spanish member of the conservative Catholic movement Opus Dei, and Chaouqui, an Italian public relations consultant, were members of a now-disbanded committee that advised Pope Francis on financial and administrative reforms.

They are accused, along with an aide of the monsignor, of passing on information to journalists Gianluigi Nuzzi and Emiliano Fittipaldi.

Former friends Vallejo Balda and Chaouqui are now in the midst of a fierce spat.

In a written statement to the court, leaked to Italian newspaper La Repubblica on Monday, Vallejo Balda confesses to having had sex with Chaouqui.

He describes her as a dangerous social climber with friends in high places, including former Italian premier Silvio Berlusconi.

Several Italian newspapers last week quoted confidential prosecution papers containing lewd and foul text messages between the two. Chaouqui claims they were edited to tarnish her reputation.

“If I wanted to cheat on my husband I would not go with an old priest who does not like women,” Chaouqui told Monday’s La Repubblica. “[Balda] will have to retract everything in court, otherwise I will sue his pants off.”

The leaked material at the centre of the trial served as the basis for two books – Merchants in the Temple by Nuzzi and Avarice by Fittipaldi – exposing resistance to papal reforms and outrageous expenses by some cardinals.

Nuzzi and Fittipaldi now risk up to eight years’ imprisonment, but the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, a human rights watchdog that counts the Holy See among its members, has called for the entire case to be dropped.

The scandal surrounding the journalists’ revelations has been dubbed VatiLeaks 2 in connection to the first VatiLeaks case, triggered in 2012 by another Nuzzi book that was also based on leaked Vatican documents.

He was not tried at the time. His main informer, a valet of then Pope Benedict XVI, was sentenced to 15 months in prison and pardoned shortly after. That scandal allegedly contributed to the shock decision by Benedict to resign in early 2013.

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