ROME—Pope Francis may have played an integral role in a financially doomed London property deal now at the center of a money laundering and extortion trial being held inside the Vatican Museums in Rome.
On Wednesday, defense attorneys for some of the ten defendants—including a cardinal and woman described as his “lady,” demanded that the Vatican turn over key investigative evidence, including testimony Pope Francis gave in which he is said to have admitted approving the rather unseemly act of paying off a swindler at the center of the case.
The case centers on a €350 million investment of Vatican funds in luxury property in London’s Sloane Square; the money was supposed to go to the poor. Those on trial are accused of defrauding the Holy See and extorting €15 million in exchange for the deed to the property, said to be paid to Gianluigi Torzi, a broker on trial for extortion.
But a key witness in the case, Monsignor Alberto Perlasca, who started out as a suspect but is now a crucial witness for the state, reportedly explained that the pope himself authorized the pay off to Torzi.
The Vatican has refused to release tapes of the deposition with the pope, which has made it tricky for the defense to know what they are up against.
The Associated Press obtained a copy of the transcript and a memo the attorneys want released into evidence. In it, former Secretariat of State’s chief of staff, Archbishop Edgar Pena Parra—shockingly not a suspect in the case—is said to have “made it clear” that the pope wanted to stop the bleeding and pay as little as possible to just own the property outright.
Parra reportedly said that the pope was faced with two options: either sue Torzi for ownership of the luxury property or pay him off. “Between these two options, with the advice of lawyers and experts, option No. 2 was chosen because it was considered more economical, with more contained risks and in a more manageable time frame,” Parra wrote, according to the AP. “It also simply aligned with the desire of the Superior,” which was taken to mean Pope Francis.
The defense has also not been given full access to Perlasca’s taped depositions, with an hour’s worth of testimony cut out for reasons only the Vatican prosecutors seem to fully understand.
Luigi Panella, a defense attorney in the case, argued Wednesday that not only did they not have the full tapes, but the summaries they were given in lieu of the tapes didn’t match what was actually said.
Defense lawyers on Wednesday have asked for the case to be thrown out if they are not given access to the crucial evidence surrounding the Pope and other higher ups’ admitted involvement.
The presiding judge, Giuseppe Pignatone, had earlier ordered the Vatican prosecutors to turn over more evidence. He will now rule on Dec. 1 whether their refusal is enough to throw the case out.