16 March 2016
Christopher Lamb in Rome
Chaouqui threatened to destroy priest accused of leaking Vatican documents
Mgr Balda believed PR woman had links to Italian secret service and mafiosi
A public relations woman who sat on a papal commission threatened to "destroy" a priest she worked with, a Vatican court was told.
Francesca Chaouqui, 34, allegedly wrote in a WhatsApp message to Mgr Angelo Lucio Vallejo Balda saying: "I will destroy you in the press and you know I can do it." It was cited as prosecution evidence in the so-called "Vatileaks" trial against five people, including two journalists.
Chaouqui, Balda and his assistant are being prosecuted for leaking documents to two journalists related to a commission tasked with overhauling Vatican finances.
The 54-year-old Spanish priest has already admitted passing documents to Gianluigi Nuzzi and Emiliano Fittipaldi, who both wrote books based on the material.
But he has claimed to have not been "fully lucid" at the time and was under pressure from Chaouqui.
The priest has claimed to have effectively blackmailed by a woman he understood to have links to Italian secret services and other contacts in a "dangerous world".
"She boasted about having lots of details about my private life, my assets and my problems with the tax authorities," he said adding that he felt Chaouqui and Nuzzi knew things about him.
Balda also said he felt "compromised" by his relationship with Chaouqui whom he says once entered his hotel room in Florence.
Chaouqui, who is married and seven months pregnant, has denied any sexual relationship with him and has previously suggested the priest is gay.
Arriving at court yesterday, she strongly denied any mafia links and produced her university theses which she had dedicated to two anti-mafia judges, now dead.
"Accusing me of being connected to the mafia, as someone from [mafia-infested southern region] Calabria, it is the worst attack that could be made on me," she told reporters.
During the hearing on Tuesday Chaouqui at one point appeared to be unwell and her lawyer said she may need to go into hospital for medical treatment related to her pregnancy. This could lead to a delay in the trial which is due to resume on Friday with further hearings possibly taking place next week and after Easter.
The defendants, who face up to eight years in jail, are accused of breaking a law created by Pope Francis in 2013 criminalising leaking.
Balda is being held in custody in a Vatican prison cell after breaching the terms of his house arrest by contacting the outside world.
The priest hid a mobile phone in a hollowed-out book of the constitutions of the Franciscan order in order to try and prepare his defence, and the phone itself was allegedly smuggled into his residence in a box of doughnuts.
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