Vatican spy story takes center stage as fraud trial resumes

By NICOLE WINFIELD

VATICAN CITY (AP) — The grand Vatican fraud and extortion trial resumes on Friday after exposing some unseemly realities of how the Holy See operates, with a new spy story taking center stage that is more befitting of a 007 thriller than to the inner workings of a papacy.

According to written testimony obtained Thursday, one of Pope Francis’ top advisers brought in members of the Italian secret service to sweep his office for bugs and ordered intelligence reports from them, completely bypassing his own forces. Vatican police.

The reported actions of Archbishop Edgar Peña Parra, number 2 of the Vatican Secretariat of State, raise fundamental questions about the security and sovereignty of Vatican City State, as he allegedly invited agents intelligence agencies in the inner sanctum of the Holy See, and then outsourced the internal spying work of the Vatican police to them.

Peña Parra was not charged with any crime, unlike his subordinates. They are among 10 people, including a once-powerful cardinal, on trial in the Vatican criminal court in connection with the The Vatican’s failed €350 million investment in a London property.

In the trial, which resumes on Friday, Prosecutors accused the longtime Holy See fund manager, Italian brokers and lawyers of robbing the pope of tens of millions in fees, then extorting 15 million euros from the Vatican to finally obtain full ownership of the property.

Pe not Parra’s role in the scandal has always been anomalous, since he authorized his subordinates to negotiate the final contracts of the agreement, then triggered a suspicious transaction report when he applied for a loan of 150 million euros from the Vatican bank to extinguish the mortgage on the property. But prosecutors, at least for now, have spared him the indictment.

The new testimony, reported by the Italian agency adnkronos and the daily “Domani” and obtained by The Associated Press on Thursday, puts another spin on the case and underscores the levels of Hollywood intrigue that plague the Vatican and have rarely been revealed. Until now.

One of Peña Parra’s former deputies, Vincenzo Mauriello, told prosecutors that in May or June 2019, after the London deal was finalized, Peña Parra told him he wanted to do a security sweep of his office because he believed his private conversations “after a short while making himself known to the outside world.

Peña Parra asked Mauriello if he knew anyone outside of the Vatican security apparatus who could do the job and Mauriello said he suggested a friend who worked at Italy’s foreign intelligence service AISI. After a preliminary meeting, the spy, Andrea Tineri, carried out the sweep on a Friday afternoon when few people were in the palace, Mauriello testified.

Nothing was found. But Peña Parra then asked Tineri to produce intelligence files on key figures, Mauriello testified. Tineri and his boss at AISI presented the findings to Peña Parra, delivering a white envelope during one of their many meetings on Vatican soil, he said.

Adnkronos cited unnamed Italian intelligence officials as denying Mauriello’s account. But Vatican prosecutors identified Tineri by name in their search warrant as one of Mauriello’s contacts and said he had been to the Vatican eight times. Vatican prosecutors apparently did not realize he was a member of Italy’s foreign intelligence service and were identifying and releasing the wiretaps of a foreign spy.

That the Vatican and Italy cooperate on security issues is not unusual: Italian police patrol St. Peter’s Square, and there are official levels of cooperation between Vatican gendarmes and law enforcement. Italian. But Tineri’s spy work for Peña Parra certainly fell outside official channels, intentionally. Mauriello recalled that he even had to escort Tineri past the Vatican security booth at one point because the gendarmes asked too many questions.

Peña Parra, who remains as Vatican interior minister, declined to comment on Thursday, citing the ongoing trial, his office said. He did not refer to Mauriello’s claims in his lengthy defense memo to Vatican prosecutors. But he said that upon arriving at the Vatican in late 2018, he found a series of problematic activities that he sought to clean up, including outrageous spending, intransigent employees and questionable decision-making at the Holy See’s operational headquarters. .

This is not the first time that the Secretariat of State has outsourced intelligence work: Cardinal Angelo Becciu, who was Peña Parra’s predecessor, is on trial partly because he hired a self-proclaimed Sardinian security analyst with alleged claims to Italian intelligence services as a consultant to help negotiate the release of Catholic missionary hostages in Africa.

And the Pope Francis himself authorized Vatican prosecutors to wiretap of Italian citizens on Italian soil, in another of the sovereignty-defying details of the case.


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