Prosecutors seek prison terms in 'Vatileaks' case

Francesca Chaouqui (centre), an Italian PR consultant accused of leaking classified documents to journalists, arrives at the Vatican for a hearing of the "Vatileaks" trial. She is accused of conspiring with Spanish Monsignor Lucio Vallejo Balda and h
Francesca Chaouqui (centre), an Italian PR consultant accused of leaking classified documents to journalists, arrives at the Vatican for a hearing of the "Vatileaks" trial. She is accused of conspiring with Spanish Monsignor Lucio Vallejo Balda and his assistant to leak documents which revealed serious irregularities in Vatican spending.PHOTO: AFP

VATICAN CITY (AFP) - Vatican prosecutors on Monday demanded prison sentences for a senior clergyman, a communications consultant and a journalist accused of involvement in the leak of sensitive Holy See documents dubbed "Vatileaks".

The prosecution called for three years and nine months prison for communications consultant Francesca Chaouqui who had been involved in a review of Vatican finances and is accused of both "inspiring" and of ultimate responsibility fot the leaks.

Chaouqui is accused of conspiring with a Spanish Vatican official, monsignor Angel Vallejo Balda, and his assistant, to leak data and documents they had access to as members of a commission appointed by Francis to spearhead a financial clean-up shortly after his election in 2013.

Prosecutors called for a sentence of three years and one month for Balda who is being held on remand in Vatican prison but is being allowed out on day release and one year and nine months for his assistant Nicola Maio.

The two journalists on trial, Gianluigi Nuzzi and Emiliano Fittipaldi, have published books based on the documents at the heart of the trial.

Prosecutors said that Nuzzi should be handed a one year suspended sentence but called for the acquittal of Fittipaldi due to a lack of evidence.

The court will deliver its verdicts on Wednesday or Thursday following a hearing Tuesday at which representatives of the accused are expected to submit their closing arguments.

"I'm sure we'll all be convicted," Chaouqui wrote on her Facebook page before the hearing, where she appeared with her baby that was born in mid-June.

"They will speak words of hatred, they will ask that I be condemned for a crime that I did not commit.

"I will listen in silence with Pietro Elijah Antonio (her son) in my arms. I will take him because this trial has also been an ordeal for him." All five accused have been prosecuted under draconian anti-leaks legislation, which could have seen them face prison terms of between four and eight years.

The law was rushed onto the Vatican statute book in 2013 as a result of the fallout from the first Vatileaks scandal, which centred on secrets divulged by the butler of now-retired Pope Benedict XVI.

The Vatican has been criticised by press freedom groups for pursuing the prosecution of the two journalists, who say they were only doing their jobs by revealing problems that they claim believers and the broader public have a right to know about.

The books published by Nuzzi and Fittipaldi depict the Vatican bureaucracy that Francis inherited three years ago as being on the verge of implosion thanks to a toxic cocktail of chronic over-spending, flawed accounting systems and serious irregularities in several departments which may have masked corruption.

One of their most striking revelations was that less than 20 per cent of donations made by believers around the world under the Peter's Pence scheme ended up being spent on good works.

The rest was swallowed up by the Vatican bureaucracy, partly helping to subsidise the luxurious lifestyles of certain Rome-based cardinals.

The books also highlight irregularities in the system for appointing saints which Francis last week moved to address - proof, the journalists say, that their work is in the Church's interest.