Lawyer: Vatican expert had little motive to steal

Published 11:33 am Monday, November 5, 2012

VATICAN CITY (AP) — A Vatican computer expert accused of helping the pope’s former butler steal secret correspondence did not know the man well and had little motive to risk his 20 years on the job for him, a defense lawyer argued Monday at the start of the second trial in the scandal.

The Vatican’s accusations are based in part on information from an anonymous source that the two defendants had frequent contacts, but Paolo Gabriele, the former butler, didn’t even trust his client enough to let him upgrade his outdated work computer, lawyer Gianluca Benedetti told the court.

Claudio Sciarpelletti, the Holy See’s computer programmer in the key office of Secretariat of State, is facing trial a month after Gabriele was convicted by a Vatican court of the theft of the documents, which reportedly formed part of an Italian muckraking journalist’s book of scandalous revelations about bureaucratic infighting, power plays and alleged corruption.

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Gabriele, a 46-year-old married layman whose family lives in Vatican City, is serving an 18-month sentence in a Vatican prison cell.

He was escorted into the courtroom Monday to testify, sitting on a courtroom bench along with top Vatican security officials also called as witnesses. But the judge decided the witnesses will instead be heard on Saturday to give the defense more time to prepare.

Sciarpelletti, a 48-year-old Italian, is accused of aiding and abetting by giving contradicting statements to Vatican investigators about an envelope found in his desk, addressed to Gabriele. According to the indictment, Sciarpelletti claimed he never read the contents.

Benedetti, told the court that much of the case against his client was based on information from an anonymous official in the Secretariat of State’s office who alleged that the butler and the computer expert were in frequent contact. But he tried to show that even though the two men were a first name basis in the narrow confines of the tiny Vatican city-state, they didn’t have any “great friendship.”

Sciarpelletti would not “have risked 20 years of dedicated service to the Holy See to help someone he rarely sees,” he said.

Over several years, the butler refused to surrender his work computer to Sciarpelletti even though the device was obsolete, he said.

The contents of the document reportedly dealt with the head of the pope’s security detail, Domenico Giani, a former Italian secret services official, who was excused from showing up in court Monday as a witness because he was participating in an international police conference in Rome.

A Swiss Guard commander and a Vatican security official connected to an Italian company with expertise in detecting eavesdropping devices had also been expected to testify on Monday.

Sciarpelletti appeared tense and nervous at times. During a break, he went outside the tribunal to smoke a cigarette and chat with his wife.

Benedetti said his client’s contradictory statements to investigators last spring might have been due to confusion, owed to his “emotional state.” The judge denied a defense request that emails and a log of phone calls between the two be admitted to court, saying those details wouldn’t necessarily nail down the relationship between the two Vatican employees.

Sciarpelletti’s office was searched in late May, shortly after the butler’s arrest, and the computer expert spent a night in a Vatican holding cell, only to be quickly released.

As during Gabriele’s trial, no video, audio or still camera coverage is allowed for this latest trial. A pool of reporters was permitted to follow the trial inside the tiny courtroom and later briefed fellow journalists accredited with the Holy See’s press room.

For months, the Vatican had insisted that Gabriele was the only suspect in the probe. Sciarpelletti’s brief jailing became known only when the indictment came down in August.

Also in court waiting to testify Monday was a monsignor who is the nephew of a prelate serving as papal ambassador to the United States. The veteran diplomat, Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, had been No. 2 administrator of the Vatican city-state until being posted in Washington earlier this year.

According to one of the letters allegedly spirited out of the Vatican by Gabriele, Vigano had begged Benedict not to be transferred after exposing corruption in the awarding of Vatican contracts that cost the Holy See millions.