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Man convicted in Vatican leaks case

A Vatican court has convicted a Holy See computer technician of helping the former papal butler in the theft of confidential documents and given him a two-month suspended sentence.

Claudio Sciarpelletti, an Italian who is a computer programme analyst in the Vatican's Secretariat of State, had testified earlier today that he played no part in helping to spirit out confidential documents in a scandal involving alleged corruption in the Vatican bureaucracy.

The Pope's former butler, Paolo Gabriele, was convicted last month in a separate trial for the theft of the documents and is serving a 18-month prison sentence in Vatican City.

Gabriele and Sciarpelletti are the only Vatican employees to be formally investigated in the case, which distressed the Pope, embarrassed Vatican hierarchy and left many wondering about the competence of the Holy See's security apparatus.

Vatican spokesman the Rev Federico Lombardi told reporters after the verdict that the probe into the leak "isn't closed", but gave no indication of whether any other suspects existed.

Sciarpelletti was convicted of aiding and abetting Gabriele by giving conflicting statements to Vatican investigators about an envelope found in his desk, addressed to Gabriele.

Judge Giuseppe Dalla Torre cited Sciarpelletti's long years of service at the Vatican in suspending the sentence as well as ordering that the criminal conviction not appear on his record.

The judge said the court concluded that Sciarpelletti had helped Gabriele "elude the investigations of the authorities" at the Vatican.

The verdict, following an hour of deliberation, was rendered "in the name of Pope Benedict XVI", Dalla Torre said.

Sciarpelletti looked crestfallen when he heard the verdict, then immediately went to embrace his wife who was in the courtroom, according to reporters that the Vatican permitted to attend the trial.

Both sides have three days to appeal.

Defence lawyer Gianluca Benedetti indicated that he would appeal, but stopped short of giving a definite reply when asked.

Vatican investigators had found the sealed envelope addressed to "P.Gabriele" and containing documents in Sciarpelletti's office desk. Sciarpelletti's defence had seemed to be strengthened when the prosecutor himself confirmed Mr Benedetti's assertion that the envelope held documents of "irrelevant value".

Sciarpelletti said today that he never opened the envelope given to him two-and-a-half years ago, and insisted that his statements given to investigators were confused because of the "moral shock" he felt after being arrested and held in a Vatican cell for a day in May.

Also today, two Vatican security officials gave brief testimony, including the number two Swiss guard commander who told the court that Sciarpelletti co-operated with investigators.

The usual formal atmosphere of the Vatican courtroom had a moment of brief humour, provided by Sciarpelletti. When a court employee, taking down summaries of the testimony on a laptop, complained of computer problems, Sciarpelletti offered his services, asking the judge: "Do you need a technician?"

Mr Lombardi later said it was unclear if Sciarpelletti will keep his Vatican job.

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