By Andrea Gagliarducci
Archbishop Ettore Balestrero, the apostolic nuncio to the Democratic Republic of Congo, announced last week that he will enter a plea bargain with an Italian court after he and his brother Guido were accused of money laundering, but will not admit guilt.
The prosecutor was investigating the alleged smuggling of Argentine meat into Italy managed by the archbishop’s father, Gerolamo.
The legal issue, which does not involve the Holy See, was a family business in which Archbishop Balestrero “acted in full good faith,” according to investigators.
The prosecutor focused on money transferred by the archbishop to his brother Guido as a donation. According to the investigators, the process in which the money was transferred (some $4.8 million) constituted at the end a scheme to launder the money.
According to Archbishop Balestrero, who was Nuncio in Colombia when Pope Frances visited the country in 2017, he accepted an anticipated bequest by his father and transferred his brother’s share to his brother’s bank account.
In a note sent to CNA, Archbishop Balestrero said that this is “exclusively a family issue” dealing with his father’s entrepreneurial activity in the early 1990s. At that time, Balestrero was a young priest serving in the nunciature in Korea. He was not involved in his father’s activity. His family deemed that those issues had been completely settled.
Some years later, in consideration of his father’s poor health condition, Archbishop Balestrero accepted the anticipation of the inheritance and gave the half of the inheritance to his brother with “a public and transparent act, in the conviction not to have done anything illicit. Otherwise I would not have done it.”
Archbishop Balestrero stressed that he and his brother always collaborated with the prosecutor, “considering that we had nothing to hide and always acted in good faith.”
The decision to negotiate a plea bargain, according to Balestrero, came “painfully” since “we deem we have no criminal responsibility.” However, he added, “it is difficult to recover, after about 25 years, part of the documentation” necessary for a successful acquittal.
Banks and other institutions involved have already destroyed the documents after so many years.
According to the Italian judicial system, a plea bargain does not constitute an admission of guilt.
“The decision to negotiate a plea bargain,” Archbishop Balestrero said, “seemed to be the best choice to preserve the serenity of my brother’s family and my old parents. Furthermore, it will save me time and energy for my spiritual mission and as a priest I feel obliged to devote my mind and interests to my mission and not money.”
As a consequence of the plea, the prosecutor will keep nearly $8 million confiscated from the Balestrero family. The prosecutor will also file a case of tax evasion.