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Defendant in Vatican trial takes case to UN, accuses pope of violating his rights with surveillance

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Defendant in Vatican trial takes case to UN, accuses pope of violating his rights with surveillance
News

News

Defendant in Vatican trial takes case to UN, accuses pope of violating his rights with surveillance

2024-06-20 20:59 Last Updated At:21:01

NEW YORK (AP) — One of the defendants in the Vatican’s big financial trial has filed a formal complaint with the United Nations, alleging that Pope Francis violated his human rights by authorizing wide-ranging surveillance during the investigation.

A lawyer for Raffaele Mincione, a London-based financier, submitted a complaint last week to the U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights via a special procedure that allows individuals or groups to provide the U.N. with information about alleged rights violations in countries or institutions.

The Vatican on Thursday rejected the claim, saying the investigation followed all relevant laws and international agreements and that no surveillance was ordered for Mincione.

The filing marks the latest and highest-profile complaint about the Vatican trial, highlighting the peculiarity of the Vatican’s criminal justice system and its seeming incompatibility with European and democratic norms. The Vatican is an absolute monarchy where the pope wields supreme legislative, executive and judicial power.

The trial, which opened in 2021 and ended in December, focused on the Holy See’s money-losing 350 million euro investment in a London property but also included other tangents. Vatican prosecutors alleged brokers and Vatican officials fleeced the Holy See of tens of millions of euros in fees and commissions, and then extorted the Holy See for 15 million euros ($16.5 million) to cede control of the property.

The trial ended in December with convictions for nine of the 10 defendants, including Mincione and a once-powerful cardinal, Angelo Becciu. The court’s motivations for the sentence still haven't been published, but both Vatican prosecutors and the nine convicted defendants have announced appeals.

Mincione’s complaint to the U.N. focused on the role of the pope during the investigation, an area that was flagged as problematic by defense lawyers during the trial and external experts in its aftermath.

The complaint cited four secret executive decrees Francis signed in 2019 and 2020 that gave Vatican prosecutors wide-ranging powers to investigate, including via unchecked wiretapping and to deviate from existing laws. The decrees only came to light right before trial, were never officially published, provided no rationale or timeframe for the surveillance, or oversight of the wiretapping by an independent judge.

The chief prosecutor argued Francis’ decrees provided unspecified “guarantees” for the suspects, and the judges rejected the defense motions at the time that claimed they violated the fundamental right to a fair trial. In a somewhat convoluted decision, the judges ruled that no violation of the principle of legality had occurred since Francis had made the laws.

In a statement responding to media inquiries about the U.N. filing, the Vatican prosecutors' office said Mincione and others had been convicted of serious crimes in a trial “where due process was fully observed and where he abundantly exercised his right to be heard.”

The prosecutor said the investigation respected all laws and international agreements and didn't actually involve ordering the use of intercepts of Mincione's phone or electronic communications.

Mincione's complaint also alleged the tribunal is not independent or impartial, a claim the Vatican has rejected previously. Francis can hire and fire judges and prosecutors, and recently decided such things such as their compensation, pension and term limits.

It is not clear what, if anything, the U.N. will do with the complaint. The Geneva-based office fields special rapporteurs, or experts, to monitor specific areas of human rights, including the judiciary and independence of judges and lawyers.

Previous complaints to the U.N. human rights office about the Vatican or Catholic Church, in the areas of child sexual abuse and LGBTQ+ discrimination, resulted in letters from the U.N. special rapporteur to the Vatican's U.N. ambassador in Geneva listing problems and requesting responses and changes.

Mincione has also tried to engage the Council of Europe on the matter, given the Holy See is subject to periodic review as part of the COE's Moneyval process to guard against money laundering. In January, a British representative asked if the COE would look into the Vatican’s human rights situation given the trial outcome.

The plenary assembly chairman dodged the question.

In ongoing litigation, Mincione has also sued the Vatican secretariat of state in a British court over the reputational harm he says he suffered as a result of the Vatican trial.

FILE - Pope Francis during his weekly general audience in St. Peter's Square at The Vatican, on Oct. 18, 2023. One of the defendants in the Vatican’s big financial trial has formally complained to the United Nations that Pope Francis violated his human rights by authorizing wide-ranging surveillance during the investigation. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino, File)

FILE - Pope Francis during his weekly general audience in St. Peter's Square at The Vatican, on Oct. 18, 2023. One of the defendants in the Vatican’s big financial trial has formally complained to the United Nations that Pope Francis violated his human rights by authorizing wide-ranging surveillance during the investigation. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino, File)

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden warned Sunday of the risks of political violence in the U.S. after Saturday’s attempted assassination of former President Donald Trump, saying, “It's time to cool it down.”

In a prime-time national address from the Oval Office, Biden said political passions can run high but “we must never descend into violence.” The president acknowledged the passions of an election year, and that he and Republicans offer different policy visions, but implored Americans to “recommit” to resolving their differences peacefully.

“There is no place in America for this kind of violence — for any violence. Ever. Period. No exception. We can’t allow this violence to be normalized," Biden said.

Biden spoke for six minutes in his third address to the nation since Saturday evening's attack by a shooter that killed one rallygoer and seriously injured two more. His warning came hours after FBI Deputy Director Paul Abbate said agents have seen increasingly violent rhetoric online since the attack at the Trump rally.

The president and his team had been grappling with how to calibrate the path forward after the weekend attack on the very person Biden is trying to defeat in November’s election.

The president noted that the Republican National Convention was opening in Milwaukee on Monday, while he himself would be returning to the reelection campaign trail after pausing his schedule to manage the immediate response to the shooting. Biden said he had “no doubt” that Republicans will “criticize my record and offer their own vision for this country" and promised to campaign laying out his own ideas, but said those disagreements must remain peaceful.

“We can do this,” Biden pleaded, saying the nation was founded on a democracy that gave reason and balance a chance to prevail over brute force. “American democracy — where arguments are made in good faith. American democracy — where the rule of law is respected. Where decency, dignity, fair play aren’t just quaint notions, they’re living, breathing realities.”

Biden also warned that political tensions were being flamed by a balkanized media environment and exploited by American enemies.

“Here in America we need to get out of our silos, where we only listen to those with whom we agree, where misinformation is rampant, where foreign actors fan the flames of our division to shape the outcomes consistent with their interests, not ours,” Biden said.

Earlier Sunday he had been briefed in the White House Situation Room and condemned the attempted assassination of his predecessor, Trump, as “contrary to everything we stand for as a nation.” He said he was ordering an independent security review of how such an attack could have happened.

The president said he has also directed the U.S. Secret Service to review all security measures for the RNC. Hours later, Audrey Gibson-Cicchino, the Secret Service’s coordinator for the convention, said the weekend attack against Trump did not prompt any changes to the agency's security plan for the event and officials “are fully prepared.”

Biden called for the country to “unite as one nation,” promised a “thorough and swift” review and asked the public not to “make assumptions” about the shooter’s motives or affiliations.

The president said he and first lady Jill Biden were praying for the family of Corey Comperatore, a former fire chief who was shot and killed during the Trump rally Saturday night in Butler, Pennsylvania.

“He was protecting his family from the bullets," Biden said. "God love him.”

The president also said he'd had a “short but good conversation” with Trump in the hours after the shootings and said he was “sincerely grateful” that the former president is “doing well and recovering.”

Trump, who has called for national resilience since the shooting, posted on his social media account after Biden's remarks, “UNITE AMERICA!”

Biden, who has set out to brand Trump as a dire threat to democracy and the nation’s very founding principles, put a temporary pause on such political messaging. Shortly after Saturday night's attack, Biden’s reelection campaign froze “all outbound communications” and was working to pull down its television ads.

The president also postponed a planned trip to Texas on Monday, where he was to speak on the 60th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act at the Lyndon B. Johnson presidential library. An NBC News interview between Biden and anchor Lester Holt will now occur at the White House, instead of in Texas, as initially planned.

Biden's campaign said that, after the NBC interview airs on Monday night, it and the Democratic National Committee “will continue drawing the contrast” with Trump over the course of the GOP convention — even though it remains unclear when ads would resume.

Biden also still plans to make a planned trip to Las Vegas, which will include a campaign event Wednesday. Vice President Kamala Harris postponed her planned campaign trip to Florida on Tuesday, where she had been set to meet with Republican women.

Trump, meanwhile, arrived Sunday evening in Milwaukee for the Republican convention, where criticism of Biden and the Democrats is sure to be searing.

The weekend developments were only the latest upheaval in a campaign that has been extraordinarily topsy-turvy in recent weeks.

Biden’s shaky debate performance on June 27 so spooked his own party that some top surrogates and donors turned on him, and nearly 20 Democratic members of Congress called on the president to leave the race outright. Facing mounting questions about whether he was fit for a second term, Biden and his top advisers have been scrambling to salvage his campaign by adding events around the country and more aggressively criticizing Trump.

Saturday's attack upended — at least for now — that counteroffensive on the cusp of the Republican convention.

The campaign hoped that Sunday's Oval Office address let Biden further drive home his point about unity while demonstrating leadership that could assuage nervous critics within his own party.

“We’ll debate and we’ll disagree, that’s not going to change,” Biden said in his afternoon remarks. “But we’ll not lose sight of who we are as Americans.”

Although investigators are still in the early stages of determining what occurred and why, some Biden critics were calling out the president for telling donors in a private call Monday that “it’s time to put Trump in the bullseye.”

A person familiar with those remarks said the president was trying to make the point that Trump had gotten away with a light public schedule after last month's debate while the president himself faced intense scrutiny. The person spoke on the condition of anonymity to more freely discuss private conversations.

In the donor call, Biden said: “I have one job and that’s to beat Donald Trump. ... I’m absolutely certain I’m the best person to be able to do that."

He continued: “So, we’re done talking about the debate. It’s time to put Trump in the bullseye. He’s gotten away with doing nothing for the last 10 days except ride around in his golf cart, bragging about scores he didn’t score. … Anyway I won’t get into his golf game.”

President Joe Biden is seen on a monitor in the press briefing room of the White House in Washington, Sunday, July 14, 2024, as he addresses the nation from the Oval Office on the assassination attempt of former President Donald and the need to end political violence. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

President Joe Biden is seen on a monitor in the press briefing room of the White House in Washington, Sunday, July 14, 2024, as he addresses the nation from the Oval Office on the assassination attempt of former President Donald and the need to end political violence. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

As seen from a window from the Colonnade outside the Oval Office, President Joe Biden addresses the nation on the assassination attempt on former President Donald Trump, at the White House in Washington, Sunday, July 14, 2024. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein)

As seen from a window from the Colonnade outside the Oval Office, President Joe Biden addresses the nation on the assassination attempt on former President Donald Trump, at the White House in Washington, Sunday, July 14, 2024. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein)

President Joe Biden addresses the nation from the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, Sunday, July 14, 2024, about the assassination attempt of Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump at a campaign rally in Pennsylvania. (Erin Schaff/The New York Times via AP, Pool)

President Joe Biden addresses the nation from the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, Sunday, July 14, 2024, about the assassination attempt of Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump at a campaign rally in Pennsylvania. (Erin Schaff/The New York Times via AP, Pool)

President Joe Biden addresses the nation from the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, Sunday, July 14, 2024, about the assassination attempt of Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump at a campaign rally in Pennsylvania. (Erin Schaff/The New York Times via AP, Pool)

President Joe Biden addresses the nation from the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, Sunday, July 14, 2024, about the assassination attempt of Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump at a campaign rally in Pennsylvania. (Erin Schaff/The New York Times via AP, Pool)

President Joe Biden speaks from the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington, Sunday, July 14, 2024, about the apparent assassination attempt of former President Donald Trump at a campaign rally in Pennsylvania. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

President Joe Biden speaks from the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington, Sunday, July 14, 2024, about the apparent assassination attempt of former President Donald Trump at a campaign rally in Pennsylvania. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

Activists pray for the safety of President Joe Biden, former President Donald Trump and other politicians at Lafayette Square near the White House, Sunday, July 14, 2024, in Washington, one day after an assassination attempt on Trump during a campaign rally in Pennsylvania. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein)

Activists pray for the safety of President Joe Biden, former President Donald Trump and other politicians at Lafayette Square near the White House, Sunday, July 14, 2024, in Washington, one day after an assassination attempt on Trump during a campaign rally in Pennsylvania. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein)

President Joe Biden speaks from the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington, Sunday, July 14, 2024, about the apparent assassination attempt of former President Donald Trump at a campaign rally in Pennsylvania. Listening are Vice President Kamala Harris, Attorney General Merrick Garland and Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

President Joe Biden speaks from the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington, Sunday, July 14, 2024, about the apparent assassination attempt of former President Donald Trump at a campaign rally in Pennsylvania. Listening are Vice President Kamala Harris, Attorney General Merrick Garland and Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

President Joe Biden speaks from the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington, Sunday, July 14, 2024, about the apparent assassination attempt of former President Donald Trump at a campaign rally in Pennsylvania. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

President Joe Biden speaks from the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington, Sunday, July 14, 2024, about the apparent assassination attempt of former President Donald Trump at a campaign rally in Pennsylvania. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump is helped off the stage by U.S. Secret Service agents at a campaign event in Butler, Pa., on Saturday, July 13, 2024. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump is helped off the stage by U.S. Secret Service agents at a campaign event in Butler, Pa., on Saturday, July 13, 2024. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

Two front pages of British national newspapers, late editions for London, Sunday, July 14, 2024, showing the reaction to events at former President Trump campaign rally in Butler, Pennsylvania. Donald Trump's campaign says he is "fine" after what law enforcement officials are treating as an assassination attempt during a rally in Butler, Pennsylvania. (AP Photo/Thomas Krych)

Two front pages of British national newspapers, late editions for London, Sunday, July 14, 2024, showing the reaction to events at former President Trump campaign rally in Butler, Pennsylvania. Donald Trump's campaign says he is "fine" after what law enforcement officials are treating as an assassination attempt during a rally in Butler, Pennsylvania. (AP Photo/Thomas Krych)

President Joe Biden arrives on Air Force One at Andrews Air Force Base, Md., Saturday, July 13, 2024. President Biden is going back to Washington from Delaware earlier than planned following the attack at the Trump rally in Pennsylvania. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

President Joe Biden arrives on Air Force One at Andrews Air Force Base, Md., Saturday, July 13, 2024. President Biden is going back to Washington from Delaware earlier than planned following the attack at the Trump rally in Pennsylvania. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

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