Italian journalists cleared in Vatican leaks trial

Vatican City, July 7 (IANS/AKI) A Vatican court on Thursday acquitted two Italian journalists who wrote tell-all books about mismanagement and graft within the Holy See but jailed a high-ranking cleric and a PR expert for leaking confidential documents on which the books were based.

After five hours of deliberation, the court cleared Gianluigi Nuzzi and Emiliano Fittipaldi due “a defect of jurisdiction”. The judges said they did not have the authority to try the journalists, who argued at the trial that their alleged offences of publishing leaked information did not take place on Vatican soil.

The Vatican court jailed Spanish Monsignor Lucio Vallejo Balda for 18 months and gave PR consultant Francesca Chaouqui a 10-month suspended sentence for leaking the classifed documents.

Balda may appeal his sentence.

A fifth defendandant, Balda’s former assistant Nicola Maio, was acquitted.

“This is an important ruling that has upheld the independence of journalists to tell the facts – an inalienable principle,” said Nuzzi commenting on the verdicts which came after a six-month trial.

The Vatican was widely criticised for prosecuting the two Italian journalists, a move seen as harming freedom of speech and information.

All five defendants were charged by the Vatican with “Crimes against the Security of the State” and faced possible prison terms of between four and eight years.

Chaouqui, 34, who served with Balda on a former financial reform commission set up by Pope Francis, denied any wrongdoing in the case, claiming she has been made a scapegoat and only acted for the good of the Church.

Before the verdict was announced, she said she was prepared to go to prison with her three-week-old baby boy if convicted.

Chaouqui was pregnant throughout the trial and gave birth in mid-June. The trial was adjourned for three weeks in March to allow her to rest.

The Vatican has no long-term prison cells but can ask Italy to house its prisoners under the terms of a 1929 treaty.



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