By Philip Pullella
VATICAN CITY (Reuters) – The Vatican’s first auditor-general, who resigned without explanation in June, has broken his silence, saying he was forced to step down with trumped-up accusations after discovering evidence of possible illegal activity.
Speaking to reporters from four media organizations including Reuters in the office of his lawyers in Rome, Libero Milone also said he believed that some in the Vatican wanted to slow down Pope Francis’s efforts at financial reform.
He said he could not give details of the irregularities he had found because of non-disclosure agreements. Reuters was unable to independently verify his assertions, which the Vatican strongly contested.
The Holy See’s deputy secretary of state, Archbishop Giovanni Angelo Becciu, told Reuters in an interview that Milone’s claims were “false and unjustified”.
“He went against all the rules and was spying on the private lives of his superiors and staff, including me,” Becciu said. “If he had not agreed to resign, we would have prosecuted him.”
Domenico Giani, the Vatican’s police chief, told Reuters there had been “overwhelming evidence” against Milone. Neither Becciu nor Giani provided details to support their assertions.
The 69-year-old left the Vatican two years after being hired with great fanfare to introduce more transparency into the sometimes murky finances at the headquarters of the Roman Catholic Church.
At the time of his resignation, with three years left on his contract, neither the Vatican nor Milone, formerly chairman and CEO of the global accounting firm Deloitte in Italy, gave any explanation for his departure. A Vatican statement at the time said only that it was “by mutual agreement”.
“I WAS IN SHOCK”
Milone, who had also worked for the United Nations and the car giant Fiat, said Becciu had ordered him to resign on the morning of June 19. Milone was told that he was being dismissed on the basis of a seven-month investigation by Vatican police.
“The facts presented to me on the morning of the 19th were fake, fabricated,” he said. “I was in shock. All the reasons had no credible foundation.”
Both Becciu and Giani, the police chief, said Milone had been given a choice: resign or face public prosecution by the Vatican’s courts. “In a certain sense, we were protecting his reputation,” Becciu said.
Milone said he had been accused of misuse of funds for hiring an outside firm to check the security of computers in the Vatican offices where he worked with a staff of 14, including two deputy auditors-general.
A document from the Vatican prosecutor authorizing the search of his offices on the day of his resignation, which Milone’s lawyers showed to reporters, said he had carried out investigations “in clear violation” of the statutes of his department.
It was not clear which statutes were said to have been violated. Article two of the statutes says the auditor-general has “full autonomy and independence”, including to “receive and investigate any reports on anomalous activities” of Vatican entities.
“My work has to be independent. It is very difficult to act with independence when departments blocked our activity or tried to control it,” he said.
The search warrant also said he had looked into the affairs of high-ranking Church members without authorization.
Milone said this referred to him looking into suspicions about the possible conflict of interest of an Italian cardinal, whom he declined to name. His investigation found nothing, but Milone said he believed he was being punished for starting it in the first place.
He said his troubles had begun on the morning of Sept. 27, 2015, when he suspected that his office computer had been tampered with. He contacted an external company that had done work for him before to check for surveillance devices “because there are no such specialized people” in the Vatican.
The company discovered that his computer had been the target of an unauthorized access, and that his secretary’s computer had been infected with spyware that copied files.
Reuters was not able to independently determine which company had been hired or its findings.
Becciu said there was proof that the outside contractor had been helping Milone to spy on others.
Milone said that, after about 12 hours of questioning by Vatican police, he had decided to sign a resignation letter in order to “protect my family and my reputation”.
Asked why he had waited three months before telling his side of the story, Milone said he had wanted to think “and let things settle”.
“I wrote to the pope in mid-July and gave him my point of view, explaining that the whole thing was a set-up,” he said, adding that the pope had not replied.
Becciu said the pope had been told of the investigation and the evidence before Milone was asked to resign.
(Reporting By Philip Pullella; Editing by Kevin Liffey)
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By Ana Nicolaci da Costa and Charlotte Greenfield
WELLINGTON (Reuters) – The leaders of New Zealand’s main parties prepared on Sunday to start talks with Winston Peters, the leader of a nationalist party who emerged as kingmaker after an inconclusive general election, but Peters indicated he was in no rush to pick a side.
Prime Minister Bill English’s National Party won the largest number of votes in Saturday’s general election, securing a comfortable margin over the Labour opposition after what had shaped as one of the closest votes in recent history.
But it was Peters and his often controversial New Zealand First Party who emerged in a position of power, with both National and Labour needing his support to form a government under New Zealand’s proportional representation system.
The National Party, which has been in power for a decade, secured 46 percent of the vote, while Labour had 35.8 percent and New Zealand First 7.5 percent. A final tally, including overseas votes, will be released on Oct. 7.
The results so far secured 58 seats for National in the 120-seat parliament and 45 for Labour. New Zealand First has nine seats and the Green Party has seven.
Labour and the Greens already have a working agreement, with Labour leader Jacinda Ardern potentially in a position to form a coalition government with 61 seats if she wins Peters’ support – the bare minimum needed.
Peters, who has served in previous Labour and National governments, appeared to be in no hurry. He told reporters on Sunday he had not yet received any calls from National or Labour, and had not contacted them. In the past, he has backed the party that won the most votes.
He said he was discussing options with members of his own party first.
“I’m doing it one-by-one by phone,” Peters said.
Asked how long it might be before he made a decision, Peters said: “How long before I pick you up and throw you into the water over there?”
LABOUR NOT CONCEDING
Ardern, a charismatic 37-year-old, revived her party’s flagging fortunes after only taking over as leader in August but fell far short of what early opinion polls suggested could have been a stunning turnaround.
She said it would be hard to complete coalition talks until all votes were tallied. Speaking outside her home in Auckland on Sunday, she said her centre-left party would not concede until “we are sure that a stable government has been formed”.
English said he would proceed with negotiations with New Zealand First.
“The shortest path to stable government is a two-party coalition between National and New Zealand First,” English told a news conference.
Analysts saw English and his National Party as the clear favourites.
“I think it’s fairly obvious that it will be a National-New Zealand First government,” said Grant Duncan, associate professor at Massey University.
National and Labour were both expected to maintain a policy of fiscal prudence if they form the next government, although they differ on monetary policy, trade and immigration.
That would likely have implications for the New Zealand dollar, the world’s 11th most-traded currency. The currency had tended to rise when National rose in the pre-election polls.
“Clearly when we open on Monday morning we’re at the moment no better off – it’s either going to be Labour or National leading the country,” Stuart Ive, a Wellington-based dealer at OM Financial, said on Sunday.
(Reporting by Ana Nicolaci da Costa and Charlotte Greenfield; Additional Reporting by Jane Wardell in SYDNEY; Editing by Paul Simao and Paul Tait)
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PARIS (Reuters) – Fewer French voters are dissatisfied with Emmanuel Macron’s performance, a poll showed on Sunday, halting a recent slide in the popularity ratings of the French president in recent months.
The poll, conducted by Ifop for newspaper Le Journal du Dimanche (JDD), showed Macron’s “dissatisfaction rating” declining to 53 percent in September, from 57 percent in August.
Some 45 percent expressed satisfaction with the centrist leader – up from 40 percent in August.
The poll of 1,989 people was carried out on Sept. 15-23.
Macron’s approval ratings have dropped sharply in opinion polls since his election in May, dragged down by labor reforms and planned budget cuts, including a decrease in housing aid for students.
The new poll comes as French far-left opposition party leader Jean-Luc Melenchon drew tens of thousands to a rally on Saturday against Macron’s labor reforms, aiming to reinforce his credentials as Macron’s strongest political opponent.
(Reporting by Dominique Vidalon; Editing by Marguerita Choy)
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