Vatican official: Colleague pressured me, not journalists

By NICOLE WINFIELD - Associated Press ,

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Public relations expert Francesca Chaouqui walks past two Vatican Gendarmi as she leaves the Vatican during a pause of her trial.

Public relations expert Francesca Chaouqui walks past two Vatican Gendarmi as she leaves the Vatican during a pause of her trial. (Photo: AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)

VATICAN CITY (AP) — A Vatican monsignor said Tuesday he never felt threatened by two journalists to whom he passed confidential documents — but did fear the colleague who introduced them.

Monsignor Angelo Lucio Vallejo Balda, a former high-ranking official in the Vatican's finance office, made the concession during cross-examination Tuesday in the Vatican's leaks case.

Italian journalists Gianluigi Nuzzi and Emiliano Fittipaldi wrote blockbuster books last year about Vatican waste, mismanagement and greed. Key documents came from a papal reform commission that Vallejo directed.

Vatican prosecutors have accused the journalists of illegally "soliciting and exerting pressure" on Vallejo to obtain the documents and of publishing them, itself a crime under Vatican City State law. Prosecutors have cited threats Vallejo said he received from the journalists.

Vallejo admitted he gave documents to the journalists. But he said he did so because he felt pressured by the woman who introduced them: Francesca Chaouqui, a flamboyant communications expert and a member of the reform commission.

Nuzzi and Fittipaldi face up to eight years in prison if convicted of putting pressure on Vallejo to obtain the documents and publish them.

Vallejo, Chaouqui and Vallejo's assistant Nicola Maio are accused of forming a criminal organization and providing the documents.

Vallejo testified that the only threats he experienced came from Chaouqui, whom he believed to be a high-ranking official in Italy's secret services with connections to powerful Italians, including a brother of former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.

"I will destroy you in all the newspapers and you know I can do it," read one WhatsApp message from Chaouqui to Vallejo that was read in court.

While Vallejo said Nuzzi once told him that "Francesca can hurt you," he conceded that neither journalist directly threatened him.

Nuzzi's attorney Roberto Paolombi pressed him on the point: "Did you feel threatened, or were you threatened?"

"I felt threatened," Vallejo said.

Fittipaldi, meanwhile, testified that he received only 20 pages from Vallejo and found them of such "little journalistic value" that he used them for just seven lines in his book. He said the book was nearly finished before he even met Vallejo.

Fittipaldi challenged the prosecutor to specify the offense he supposedly committed, given it's a journalist's job to ask sources for information.

"I don't see any crime here," Fittipaldi said. "This is part of my job."

Fittipaldi's book "Avarice," and Nuzzi's book "Merchants in the Temple," detailed millions of euros in lost potential rental income from the Vatican's real estate holdings, millions in missing inventory from the Vatican's tax-free stores, the exorbitant costs for getting someone declared a saint and the greed of bishops and cardinals lusting after huge apartments.

The books were based on documents produced by a reform commission that Pope Francis appointed in 2013 to survey the Vatican's financial holdings and propose reforms so that more money could be devoted to the poor.

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