The Vatican City State tribunal has shown notable activism in the last year and a half. In the end, the tribunal took the lead in the operations, according to a process that some internal observers have described as a “Vaticanization of the Holy See.”
To understand this better, let’s look at the London property issue.
The investment was signed, entrusted to brokers, and finally “restructured” because the signed agreements did not fully protect the Holy See. It was necessary to cut out the intermediaries, pay them the amount stipulated in the contract, and ask for liquidity from the IOR to refinance the investment. The IOR at first said yes. Then it backtracked, issued a complaint, and the pope authorized the Vatican’s promoter of justice to proceed summarily.
All this led to the suspension of six Vatican officials. Five of them were exposed to the public with the publication of a note from the Gendarmerie, which ended up in the newspapers. The officials’ houses were also searched, and one wonders whether everything took place in agreement with the Italian authorities.
In short, it is the Vatican City State judges who have taken command of the operations, establishing an unprecedented leadership of the state.
The state serves to sustain the Holy See. Yet the Vatican City State is an absolute monarchy where the pope decides and establishes what he wants. But the Holy See is an international entity that signs treaties and conventions on human rights and justice, which finds its credibility eroded by this new judicial activism.
This is the Vaticanization of the Holy See, carried forward in an Italian way. The Vatican tribunal is chaired by a retired Italian prosecutor, Giuseppe Pignatone. There are two promoters of justice (Alessandro Diddi and Roberto Zannotti) and one promoter of applied justice (Gianluca Perone) who serve as lawyers in Italy.
Yet Vatican magistrates recently have run into difficulties with their colleagues on the Italian side.
One case concerned the extradition request for Cecilia Marogna, nicknamed “the lady” of Cardinal Angelo Becciu, who is accused of misusing money from the Secretariat of State, where the cardinal used to work.
She was arrested in Italy and spent two weeks in prison. Italy’s Supreme Court later annulled the provision.
Then there was the search of the house of Fabrizio Tirabassi, one of the suspended Vatican officials. A Rome court later declared that the search warrant was “void” because it was an “informal” warrant, with “evident and substantial illegitimacy profiles, starting with the fact that the search order was ordered directly by the public prosecutor without going through the scrutiny of a judge.”
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These words call into question the Vatican juridical system itself. The pope is a supreme judge who can instruct, make, and undo the processes.
An English judge has thought of this. Revoking the provision that had frozen the funds of Gianluigi Torzi, one of the intermediaries in the London property deal, the English judge Tony Baumgartner questioned the work of Vatican prosecutors, arguing that their reconstruction of the facts was subject to mischaracterization or misinterpretation.
This situation all started in June 2020 with Torzi’s arrest at the Vatican, where he had gone to answer questions from the Vatican police. Raffaele Mincione, an Italian citizen and the other broker involved in the London investment, was taken from a hotel and held in custody in Italy. He filed two lawsuits against the Holy See.
In three cases then -- Marogna, Tirabassi, and Torzi -- the Holy See’s requests have been overturned because of procedural defects.
This raises a series of questions that will undoubtedly catch Moneyval’s attention.
First: can a Vatican court be made up of part-time judges? They are experts, but certainly not in everything. Until now, the fact that the judges were part-time was justified by the small number of trials. But nowadays, everything has changed. Financial reform has brought new specializations and projected the Vatican system into the European system. Are part-time judges able to lead complex investigations such as those on the London property?