Vatican: IT man denies frequent contact

2012-11-05 21:12
Pope Benedict XVI's butler Paolo Gabriele, right, carries the pontiff's bags as they arrive at Ciampino military airport in Rome. (File, AP)

Pope Benedict XVI's butler Paolo Gabriele, right, carries the pontiff's bags as they arrive at Ciampino military airport in Rome. (File, AP)

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Vatican City - A Vatican computer technician accused of helping Pope Benedict XVI's former butler leak secret memos denied "frequent contact" with his alleged accomplice at the start of his trial on Monday.

Claudio Sciarpelletti attended the first hearing in the tiny state's 19th-century courtroom, where it emerged that Vatican police had been tipped off to his links with disgraced ex-butler Paolo Gabriele by an anonymous note.

The 48-year-old is accused of aiding and abetting Gabriele, who was sentenced to 18 months in jail last month after he admitted leaking papers alleging corruption and Machiavellian politics in the Vatican.

"It all began with an anonymous note from an official in the Vatican's Secretary of State, who spoke of frequent meetings between Gabriele and Sciarpelletti," the technician's lawyer Gianluca Benedetti told the court.

Denied claims

Benedetti denied the allegation and said that Sciarpelletti did not have "a close friendship [and] frequent contact" with Gabriele.

Sciarpelletti faces a possible sentence of up to one year in prison.

Gabriele - now serving time in a holding cell within the Vatican - is expected to take the stand to testify to their close friendship.

But Sciarpelletti has insisted they were no more than acquaintances.

In a hearing mainly taken up with technical issues, Benedetti's request that the charges against his client be dropped was refused.

He also said his client had been in "an emotional state" when he gave contradictory accounts to police.
The next hearing was scheduled for Saturday, and it may be the last, as the Vatican rushes to wind up the embarrassing and damaging months-long scandal.

Suspicious envelope

The technician was arrested on 25 May as the investigation into the leaks unfolded but only spent one night in a Vatican cell before being released.

A search by Vatican police unearthed a suspicious envelope addressed to Gabriele in Sciarpelletti's desk.

In it, they found photocopies of memos published by Italian investigative journalist Gianluigi Nuzzi in his book "His Holiness", which collected letters depicting intrigue and infighting inside the Vatican.

The book touched on everything from fraud allegations to sex abuse scandals.

Called to account, Sciarpelletti's testimony was confused and contradictory.

"X" and "W"

He said Gabriele had given him the envelope because he wanted his opinion on the contents, but that he had never opened it and had forgotten it was there.

He later said it was someone else entirely that had given him the envelope - a person identified in court documents only by the letter "W".

He also talked about a second envelope, given to him by a certain "X".

He was initially accused of giving false testimony, conspiracy to commit aggravated theft, aiding a thief and violating office secrets.

Reduced charges

But the Vatican later reduced the charges, saying his alleged role in the leaks is "marginal" and that he faces only a light sentence if convicted after a trial likely to be shorter than Gabriele's, which lasted a week.

Witnesses expected to be called include William Kloter, deputy commander of the Swiss Guard and Sciarpelletti's superior, Carlo Maria Polvani.

Monsignor Polvani is the nephew of Carlo Maria Vigano, formerly the Vatican's top administrator, who had written letters to the pope which were later leaked alleging corruption in the Holy See.

Religious watchers hope Sciarpelletti's turn in the dock will shed light on issues left hanging by the butler's trial - one of the most pressing being whether Gabriele really did act alone, as he claims.

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