Vatican court convicts accomplice in leaks scandal

AFP , Saturday 10 Nov 2012

A Vatican court found a computer expert guilty of obstruction of justice in the investigation of leaks of sensitive papal documents to the media by Pope Benedict's former butler

Vatican court on Saturday convicted a computer programmer expert by the world's tiniest state for helping Pope Benedict XVI's butler engineer a series of leaks that embarrassed the Vatican.

The court handed 48-year-old Claudio Sciarpelletti a suspended sentence of two months in prison with a probationary term of five years, meaning that if he respects the terms of his probation he will likely not have to go to prison.

Sciarpelletti was convicted on a single charge of aiding and abetting, the panel of three judges said in its verdict published by the Vatican press office, adding that the defendant had "helped to deviate the investigations".

His lawyer, Gianluca Benedetti, said his client will appeal the sentence.

Sciarpelletti's trial comes just weeks after the disgraced former butler, Paolo Gabriele, was sentenced to 18 months in prison for leaking secret memos from the papal residence and spreading gossip about Vatican employees.

Sciarpelletti has worked for the past 20 years in the Secretariat of State -- effectively the government of the Roman Catholic Church -- and was responsible for maintenance on all the computers used by Vatican employees.

The leaks, which were published in a book by an Italian journalist, revealed fierce infighting in the highest echelons of the Catholic Church and allegations of serious fraud in the running of the Vatican city state.

Gabriele said he had acted out of loyalty to the Church and to root out "evil and corruption" from the Vatican, telling judges at his own trial last month that he believed the pope was poorly informed on important issues.

The apparent ease with which documents were smuggled out of the Vatican has surprised observers, and Italian media reports say there could have been a wider conspiracy of disgruntled employees beyond Gabriele and Sciarpelletti.

Investigators said they found a mysterious envelope with an official Vatican stamp in a drawer in Sciarpelletti's desk after being tipped off anonymously. It contained copies of some of the documents which appeared in the book.

Sciarpelletti said he never opened the envelope but was unclear about who had given it to him, initially telling investigators it was Gabriele and later saying he had received it from a prelate named only as "W" in court documents.

The defendant said this was due to his emotional state during questioning.

The court heard the prelate named by Sciarpelletti was his superior, Carlo Maria Polvani, a trial witness and head of the documentation service of the Secretariat of State -- the administration of the Roman Catholic Church.

Monsignor Polvani is the nephew of Carlo Maria Vigano, the Vatican envoy to Washington and a former governor of the Vatican city state who complained in leaked letters to the pope that he was being handed out for stamping out fraud.

Polvani said it was "unthinkable" he could give Sciarpelletti any confidential documents, adding that he was "shocked" by the rumours against him and that he had even been accused of being "a fan of Che Guevara".

"I swear on my baptism and my priesthood," he said in an emotional speech.

No cameras were allowed into the trial to protect the defendant's privacy.

Gabriele, who is imprisoned in a Vatican cell awaiting a possible pardon from the pope, told the trial that it was he who had handed Sciarpelletti those documents but said he could not remember giving him any envelope.

The papers found in the envelope criticised the powerful head of Vatican police Domenico Giani and alleged that two of his officers also held stakes in private security firms in Italy in a possible conflict of interest.

The case has lifted a lid on unease in the Vatican about the growing power of the gendarmerie and tensions between the 150-person police corps and the Swiss Guards, the traditional defenders of the papacy since the 16th century.

The trials into the "Vatileaks" case have been the biggest in the modern history of the Vatican, whose court normally only tries cases of petty theft targeting the millions of tourists who visit the famous city state every year.

Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi said an investigation into the document leaks was ongoing and prosecutors have said they do not rule out levying more serious charges, such as spying and the violation of state secrecy.

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