Vatican spy story takes center stage as fraud trial resumes

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

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.


Russia: Zelensky’s ‘preventive strike’ comments justify its Ukraine ‘special operation’

Russia: Zelensky’s ‘preventive strike’ comments justify its Ukraine ‘special operation’
Updated 7 sec ago

Russia: Zelensky’s ‘preventive strike’ comments justify its Ukraine ‘special operation’

Russia: Zelensky’s ‘preventive strike’ comments justify its Ukraine ‘special operation’
  • Russia launched its ‘special military operation’ to demilitarize and ‘denazify’ its neighbor
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Friday that remarks by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky suggesting NATO should launch preventive strikes on Russia confirmed the need for what it calls its “special operation” in Ukraine.
“By doing so, (he) essentially presented the world with further evidence of the threats posed by the Kyiv regime,” Lavrov said. “This is why a special military operation was launched to neutralize them.”
In a discussion with an Australian think tank on Thursday, Zelensky said he believed strikes were necessary to preclude any use of nuclear weapons.
He did not go into detail about what kind of strikes he meant, and made no reference to any need for nuclear strikes.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov denounced Zelensky’s comments as “an appeal to start yet another world war with unpredictable, monstrous consequences,” according to RIA news agency.
Russia launched its “special military operation” to demilitarize and “denazify” its neighbor. Ukraine and Western nations have dismissed this as a baseless pretext for invasion.

Armenia, Azerbaijan hold talks in efforts to ease tensions

Armenia, Azerbaijan hold talks in efforts to ease tensions
Updated 30 min 7 sec ago

Armenia, Azerbaijan hold talks in efforts to ease tensions

Armenia, Azerbaijan hold talks in efforts to ease tensions
  • Last month, Armenia and Azerbaijan negotiated a cease-fire to end a flare-up of fighting that killed 155 soldiers from both sides

PRAGUE: The leaders of Azerbaijan and Armenia have held talks in Prague in efforts to ease tensions between the two longtime adversaries.
Armenia agreed to “facilitate a civilian EU mission alongside the border with Azerbaijan,” according to a joint statement released early Friday, following a meeting on the margins of a European summit in the presence of the EU Council President Charles Michel and French President Emmanuel Macron.
Azerbaijan “agreed to cooperate with this mission as far as it is concerned,” the statement said.
Last month, Armenia and Azerbaijan negotiated a cease-fire to end a flare-up of fighting that killed 155 soldiers from both sides.
The EU mission will start in October for a maximum of two months, with the aim to “build confidence” and “contribute” to the border commissions that have been set earlier this year to address questions related to the delimitation of the border, the statement said.
The ex-Soviet countries have been locked in a decades-old conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh, which is part of Azerbaijan but has been under the control of ethnic Armenian forces backed by Armenia since a separatist war there ended in 1994.
The move comes after the leaders of historic foes Turkey and Armenia on Thursday held their first face-to-face meeting since the two countries agreed to improve relations.
The discussions have been held on the sidelines of a summit by the leaders of 44 countries to launch a “European Political Community” aimed at boosting security and economic prosperity across Europe.


Sri Lanka top court allows proceedings against former President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, others

Sri Lanka top court allows proceedings against former President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, others
Updated 07 October 2022

Sri Lanka top court allows proceedings against former President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, others

Sri Lanka top court allows proceedings against former President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, others
  • The case calls for accountability for the island nation’s leadership for its worst financial crisis in more than seven decades

COLOMBO: Sri Lanka’s top court has granted permission for proceedings against former President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, the rights group which filed the case against him said in a statement on Friday.
The court also agreed to allow proceedings against the country’s former Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, its former finance minister and two of its former central bank governors.
The case, filed by rights group Transparency International, calls for accountability for the island nation’s leadership for its worst financial crisis in more than seven decades.


Police: 2 dead, 6 injured in stabbings along Las Vegas Strip

Police: 2 dead, 6 injured in stabbings along Las Vegas Strip
Updated 22 min 52 sec ago

Police: 2 dead, 6 injured in stabbings along Las Vegas Strip

Police: 2 dead, 6 injured in stabbings along Las Vegas Strip
  • The names of those wounded in the attack were not immediately released
  • Police described the suspect as a man in his 30s and said they were working to confirm his identity

LAS VEGAS: An attacker with a large kitchen knife killed two people and wounded six others in stabbings along the Las Vegas Strip before he was arrested Thursday, police said.
Three people were hospitalized in critical condition and another three were in stable condition, according to Las Vegas police, who said they began receiving 911 calls about the stabbings around 11:40 a.m. across the street from the Wynn casino and hotel.
Yoni Barrios, 32, was booked on two counts of murder and six counts of attempted murder late Thursday, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported.
Barrios, who is not a Las Vegas resident, was detained by Sands security guards and Metropolitan Police Department officers while running on a Strip sidewalk, police said.
“This was an isolated incident,” Metro Police Deputy Chief James LaRochelle said in a statement. “All evidence indicates Barrios acted alone and there are no outstanding suspects at this time.”
Police said they were continuing to investigate the motive but do not believe there was an altercation before the attacks.
The Clark County coroner’s office identified the victims who were killed as Brent Allan Hallett, 47, and Maris Mareen Digiovanni, 30, both Las Vegas residents, the Review-Journal reported.
The names of those wounded in the attack were not immediately released.
The initial stabbing was unprovoked and on the eastern sidewalk of Las Vegas Boulevard. The suspect then headed south and stabbed others, LaRochelle said.
The man fled and was followed by 911 callers before he was taken into custody, authorities said. Police recovered the “large knife with a long blade” believed to have been used, LaRochelle said, calling the case a “hard-to-comprehend murder investigation.”
There were no other suspects in the case and “the Strip is secure,” Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo said.
“Locals and tourists are the victims of this crime,” Lombardo said.
Witnesses told Las Vegas TV stations that some of the victims appeared to be showgirls or street performers who take pictures with tourists on the Strip.
The suspect told a woman that he was a chef who wanted to take a picture with some of the showgirls with his knife, but he started stabbing people when the group declined the man’s offer, the woman told KTNV.
Jason Adams told KLAS that he witnessed the attack on a showgirl.
“This guy came, ran up, and started stabbing this lady in front of me and she ran around the escalators and she tried to get up under the bridge and her girlfriend was trying to help her,” Adams said, adding that the attack happened very quickly.
Pierre Fandrich, a tourist from Canada, told KTNV that he did not see the stabbing suspect as he was walking along the Strip. But he said he thought he heard “three or four showgirls laughing,” and it turned out to be screaming.
Fandrich said he saw “a lot of blood” as one woman ran across a bridge, one was on the ground, and another had a stab wound on her back as she tried to help the fallen woman.
Fandrich also told KTNV that he thought one of the victims fell from the bridge because there was so much blood on the ground.
Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak posted a message on social media saying, “Our hearts are with all those affected by this tragedy.”
“At the State level, we will continue to work with partners in law enforcement to make resources available on the ground and ensure the Las Vegas Strip remains a safe and welcoming place for all to visit,” Sisolak said.


Thailand mourns children, others slain by ex-police officer

Thailand mourns children, others slain by ex-police officer
Updated 07 October 2022

Thailand mourns children, others slain by ex-police officer

Thailand mourns children, others slain by ex-police officer
  • Police speculated the gunman targeted the center because it was near his home

UTHAI SAWAN, Thailand: Friends hugged sobbing family members struggling with staggering loss Friday in a rural northeastern Thailand community mourning the children and other victims slain by a fired police officer in the nation’s deadliest shooting rampage.
At least 24 of the 36 people killed in the assault Thursday in the small town of Uthai Sawan were children.
On Friday morning, royal and government representatives in white, military-style coats stood in lines to lay wreaths at ceremonial tables in front of the Young Children’s Development Center’s main door. They were followed by weeping family members, who gathered their hands in prayer before laying white flowers on the wooden floor.
“I cried until I had no more tears coming out of my eyes. They are running through my heart,” said Seksan Sriraj, 28, whose pregnant wife was a teacher at the center and was due to give birth this month. “My wife and my child have gone to a peaceful place. I am alive and will have to live. If I can’t go on, my wife and my child will be worried about me, and they won’t be reborn in the next life. That’s about it.”
Many relatives were gathered in front of the child care center to start the process of claiming compensation and psychologists were also sent to the site to help them. Seven of the 10 people who were wounded were still hospitalized Friday.
Thailand’s King Maha Vajiralongkorn and Queen Suthida were expected later Friday to visit two hospitals treating the wounded, and Prime Minster Prayuth Chan-ocha was expected to visit the daycare center and the hospitals.
When asked whether he thought the child care center was secure enough, Seksan noted the attacker had been a police officer. “He came to do what he had in his mind and was determined to do it. I think everyone did the best they could.”
Police speculated the gunman targeted the center because it was near his home. They identified him as Panya Kamrap, 34, a former police sergeant fired earlier this year because of a drug charge involving methamphetamine. He had been due to appear in court Friday.
Witnesses said the attacker got out of a car and shot a man eating lunch before pausing to reload. Staff at the child care center locked the door, but the gunman shot his way through it. The children, mainly 2- and 3-year-olds, had been taking an afternoon nap, and photos taken by first responders showed their tiny bodies still lying on blankets.
Panya took his own life after killing his wife and child at home.
Nopparat Langkapin, a local official in Uthai Sawan, said the victims were “all children of our community.”
“Relatives, families and close friends are deeply saddened by this incident. And we all felt this across the community very quickly. Most of us are feeling depressed and sad because they are our children,” he said.
The attack took place in Nongbua Lamphu province, one of the country’s poorest regions.
A video taken by a first responder arriving at the scene showed rescuers rushing into the single-story building past a shattered glass front door, with drops of blood visible on the ground in the entryway. Photos showed slashes to the victims’ faces and gunshots to their heads.
In footage posted online after the attack, frantic family members wept outside the building. The floor was smeared with blood, and pictures of the alphabet and other colorful decorations adorned the walls.
Mass shootings are rare but not unheard of in Thailand, which has one of the highest civilian gun ownership rates in Asia, with 15.1 weapons per 100 population compared to only 0.3 in Singapore and 0.25 in Japan. That’s still far lower than the US rate of 120.5 per 100 people, according to a 2017 survey by Australia’s GunPolicy.org nonprofit organization.
The US and Australia expressed sympathy and solidarity. “All Australians send their love and condolences,” Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese tweeted. “This violence is both senseless and heartbreaking,” US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement.
Thailand’s previous worst mass shooting involved a disgruntled soldier who opened fire in and around a mall in the northeastern city of Nakhon Ratchasima in 2020, killing 29 people and holding off security forces for some 16 hours before eventually being killed by them.
Nearly 60 others were wounded in that attack. Its death toll surpassed that of the previously worst attack on civilians, a 2015 bombing at a shrine in Bangkok that killed 20 people. It was allegedly carried out by human traffickers in retaliation for a crackdown on their network.
Last month, a clerk shot co-workers at Thailand’s Army War College in Bangkok, killing two and wounding another before he was arrested.