Vatican spy story takes center stage as fraud trial resumes

Pope Francis arrives with Cardinal Marc Ouellet of Canada for opening of 3-day Symposium on priesthood in the Paul VI hall at the Vatican on Thursday. (AFP)
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Updated 17 February 2022

Vatican spy story takes center stage as fraud trial resumes

  • One of Pope Francis’ top advisers brought in members of the Italian secret service to sweep his office for bugs
  • Archbishop Edgar Pena Para, the No. 2 in the Vatican secretariat of state, raise some fundamental questions about the security and sovereignty of the Vatican City State

VATICAN CITY: The Vatican’s big fraud and extortion trial resumes Friday after exposing some unseemly realities of how the Holy See operates, with a new spy story taking center stage that is more befitting of a 007 thriller than the inner workings of a papacy.
According to written testimony obtained Thursday, one of Pope Francis’ top advisers brought in members of the Italian secret service to sweep his office for bugs and commissioned intelligence reports from them, completely bypassing the Vatican’s own police force in the process.
The reported actions of Archbishop Edgar Pena Para, the No. 2 in the Vatican secretariat of state, raise some fundamental questions about the security and sovereignty of the Vatican City State, since he purportedly invited foreign intelligence operatives into the Holy See’s inner sanctum, and then outsourced internal Vatican police spy work to them.
Pena Parra hasn’t been charged with any crime, though his subordinates have. They are among 10 people, including a once-powerful cardinal, on trial in the Vatican criminal tribunal in connection with the Vatican’s bungled 350 million euro investment in a London property.
In the trial, which resumes Friday, prosecutors have accused the Holy See’s longtime money manager, Italian brokers and lawyers of fleecing the pope of tens of millions in fees and of then extorting the Vatican of 15 million euros to finally get full ownership of the property.
Pena Parra’s role in the scandal has always been anomalous, since he authorized his subordinates to negotiate the final contracts in the deal, and then triggered a suspicious transaction report when he sought a 150-million-euro loan from the Vatican bank to extinguish the mortgage on the property. But prosecutors at least for now have spared him indictment.
The new testimony, reported by the Italian agency adnkronos and “Domani” daily and obtained Thursday by The Associated Press, provides another twist in the affair and underscores the Hollywood levels of intrigue that plague the Vatican and have rarely come to light. Until now.
One of Pena Parra’s former deputies, Vincenzo Mauriello, told prosecutors that in May or June 2019, after the London deal was finalized, Pena Parra told him he wanted to do a security sweep of his office because he believed his private conversations “after a short while were becoming known outside.”
Pena Parra asked if Mauriello if he knew anyone outside the Vatican security apparatus who could do the job and Mauriello said he suggested a friend who worked in Italy’s AISI foreign intelligence service. After a preliminary meeting, the spy, Andrea Tineri, conducted the sweep on a Friday afternoon when few people were in the palazzo, Mauriello testified.
Nothing was found. But Pena Parra then asked Tineri to produce some intelligence dossiers on key figures, Mauriello testified. Tineri and his boss at the AISI presented the findings to Pena Parra, handing over a white envelope in one of their many encounters on Vatican soil, he said.
Adnkronos quoted unnamed Italian intelligence officials as denying Mauriello’s account. But Vatican prosecutors identified Tineri by name in their search warrant as one of Mauriello’s contacts, and said he had visited the Vatican eight times. Vatican prosecutors apparently didn’t realize he was a member of Italy’s foreign intelligence service and that they were identifying and publishing wiretaps of a foreign spy.
That the Vatican and Italy cooperate on security matters is not unusual: Italian police patrol St. Peter’s Square, and there are official levels of cooperation between Vatican gendarmes and Italian law enforcement. But Tineri’s spywork for Pena Parra certainly fell outside official channels, intentionally so. Mauriello recalled that he even had to escort Tineri past the Vatican security booth at one point because the gendarmes were asking too many questions.
Pena Parra, who remains in his day job as the Vatican interior minister, declined to comment Thursday, citing the ongoing trial, his office said. He didn’t refer to Mauriello’s claims in his lengthy defense memo to Vatican prosecutors. But he made it clear that as soon as he arrived at the Vatican in late 2018, he found a series of problematic activities that he sought to clean up, including outrageous spending, intransigent employees and dubious decision-making in the operational headquarters of the Holy See.
It is not the first time the secretariat of state has outsourced intelligence work: Cardinal Angelo Becciu, who was Pena Parra’s predecessor, is on trial in part because he hired a self-styled Sardinian security analyst with purported claims to the Italian intelligence services as a consultant to help negotiate the liberation of Catholic missionary hostages in Africa.
And Pope Francis himself authorized Vatican prosecutors to conduct wiretaps of Italian citizens on Italian soil, in yet another of the sovereignty-defying details of the case.


US Senate approves $12 billion in new aid for Ukraine

Updated 8 sec ago

US Senate approves $12 billion in new aid for Ukraine

WASHINGTON: The US Senate approved $12 billion in new economic and military aid for Ukraine Thursday as part of a stopgap extension of the federal budget into December.
The measure, agreed by senators of both parties, includes $3 billion for arms, supplies and salaries for Ukraine’s military, and authorizes President Joe Biden to direct the US Defense Department to take $3.7 billion worth of its own weapons and materiel to provide Ukraine.
It also provides $4.5 billion for Kyiv to keep the country’s finances stable and keep the government running, providing services to the Ukrainian people.
It comes as Russian President Vladimir Putin plans to declare the annexation of parts of Ukraine occupied by Russian troops on Friday.
“Seven months since the conflict began, it’s crystal clear that American assistance has gone a long way to helping the Ukrainian people resist Putin’s evil, vicious aggression,” said Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer.
“But the fight is far from over, and we must, we must, continue helping the brave, valiant Ukrainian people.”
The Ukraine aid is part of a short-term extension of the federal budget, which is to expire at the end of the fiscal year on September 30 without the parties in Congress having agreed to a full-year allocation for fiscal 2022-23.
The extension, or continuing resolution, will keep the government running into December, but it has to first be approved by the House of Representatives to avoid shutting down parts of the government on Monday.

US charges ex-Army major and his wife over alleged plot to leak military health data to Russia

Updated 29 September 2022

US charges ex-Army major and his wife over alleged plot to leak military health data to Russia

  • The indictment alleges that the plot started after Russian President Vladimir Putin invaded Ukraine
  • Prosecutors said the pair wanted to try to help the Russian government by providing them with data

WASHINGTON: A former US Army major and his anesthesiologist wife have been criminally charged for allegedly plotting to leak highly sensitive health care data about military patients to Russia, the Justice Department revealed on Thursday.
Jamie Lee Henry, the former major who was also a doctor at Fort Bragg in North Carolina, and his wife, Dr. Anna Gabrielian, were charged in an unsealed indictment in a federal court in Maryland with conspiracy and the wrongful disclosure of individually identifiable health information.
The indictment alleges that the plot started after Russian President Vladimir Putin invaded Ukraine.
Prosecutors said the pair wanted to try to help the Russian government by providing them with data to help the Putin regime “gain insights into the medical conditions of individuals associated with the US government and military.”
The two met with someone whom they believed was a Russian official, but in fact was actually an FBI undercover agent, the indictment says.


Putin says conflicts in Ukraine, ex-USSR are ‘result of Soviet collapse’

Updated 29 September 2022

Putin says conflicts in Ukraine, ex-USSR are ‘result of Soviet collapse’

  • In the past month, the region has seen clashes between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, and Armenia and Azerbaijan
  • Putin has regularly made nostalgic speeches about the USSR and served in the Soviet security services (KGB)

MOSCOW: Russian President Vladimir Putin said Thursday that conflicts in countries of the former USSR, including Ukraine, are the result of the collapse of the Soviet Union.
“It is enough to look at what is happening now between Russia and Ukraine, and at what is happening on the borders of some other CIS countries. All this, of course, is the result of the collapse of the Soviet Union,” Putin said in a televised meeting with intelligence chiefs of former Soviet countries.
In parallel to the military operation in Ukraine, armed conflicts have returned to various parts of the former Soviet empire.
In the past month the region has seen clashes between the two Central Asian countries of Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, and fighting between Armenia and Azerbaijan.
Putin pointed fingers at the West, saying it was “working on scenarios to fuel new conflicts” in the post-Soviet space.
Putin spoke a day before he is due to formally annex four Moscow-occupied Ukrainian regions, in a move that is expected to escalate the Ukraine conflict.
“We are witnessing the formation of a new world order, which is a difficult process,” Putin said, echoing earlier statements about the waning influence of the West.
Putin, who turns 70 next week, has regularly made nostalgic speeches about the USSR and served in the Soviet security services (KGB).
His statement comes during an exodus of Russian men fleeing a mobilization, including to ex-Soviet countries like Kazakhstan, whose president vowed to shelter Russian draft dodgers.


Germany to seek EU sanctions on Iran over protests crackdown: foreign minister

Updated 29 September 2022

Germany to seek EU sanctions on Iran over protests crackdown: foreign minister

  • “Within the framework of the EU, I am doing everything I can to get sanctions under way”

BERLIN: German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock on Thursday said she was pushing for EU sanctions on Iran over the Islamic republic’s lethal crackdown on protests sparked by the death of a young woman in police custody.
“Within the framework of the EU, I am doing everything I can to get sanctions under way against those in Iran who are beating women to death and shooting demonstrators in the name of religion,” Baerbock wrote on Twitter.


'Stand for each other': Afghan women rally in support of antigovernment protests in Iran

Updated 29 September 2022

'Stand for each other': Afghan women rally in support of antigovernment protests in Iran

  • Protesters gathered in front of Iranian embassy in Kabul chanting, 'women, life, freedom'
  • The protest was soon dispersed by Taliban security forces who fired into the air

KABUL: Afghan women rallied in front of the Iranian embassy in Kabul on Thursday, joining global protests over the death of a young woman in the custody of Iran’s morality police.

Mahsa Amini, 22, was detained in Tehran on Sept. 12 for failing to cover her hair modestly enough. Women who were arrested along with Amini have said she was beaten inside a police van. Three days later she died in hospital after falling into a coma.

Public anger over her death has prompted days of rage and street protests across Iran, in what has been the largest manifestation of dissent against the Iranian government in over a decade.

Protests have also spilled to other countries.

A group of about 25 women who gathered in front of the Iranian embassy in Kabul carried placards that read: “Beautiful Mahsa, your blood is our way and inspiration,” as they chanted “women, life, freedom” — the phrase that has been used by demonstrators in Iran.

A 24-year-old university student who participated in the protest told Arab News she had attended the rally in solidarity with the women of Iran.

“Women in Iran and we are facing the same oppression. We wanted to show that we can amplify the voices of our sisters in Iran while highlighting our own concerns for freedom and dignity,” she said, on condition of anonymity.

“The widespread protests in Iran supported by men and women also inspired us to continue our fight for the rights of Afghan women in Afghanistan. Afghan women have been brave enough to defy the Taliban’s restrictive attitude. We will not be silenced and we will rise again.”

The rights of Afghan women have been limited since the Taliban took control of the country after US-led forces withdrew from Afghanistan in August last year.

Although they had previously promised a softer version of the harsh rule during their first stint in power from 1996 to 2001, women have already been ordered to wear face cover in public, banned from making long-distance journeys alone, and prevented from working in most sectors outside of health and education.

Since September last year, permission from the Ministry of Justice is required to organize a protest. Slogans used during rallies must also be approved by authorities.

Soon after Thursday’s rally in front of the Iranian embassy began, it was dispersed by Taliban security forces, who fired into the air.

For Afghan women’s rights activist like Muzhgan Noori, the protest was a “fine example of sisterhood and solidarity among women sharing the same pain and concerns.”

“Afghan women have protested whenever they felt the need for it, and they should be able to do so now. The government must support and protect them instead of frightening them,” she told Arab News.

“I hope women continue to stand for each other.”