I've spent half a century (yikes) writing for radio and print—mostly print. I hope to be still tapping the keys as I take my last breath.
The Banco Ambrosiano was closely associated with the Vatican, which was its biggest shareholder, and with the Mafia, which probably used the bank to launder some of its ill-gotten gains.
The chairman of the bank was Roberto Calvi, a man with an interesting past. He joined the bank in 1946 when it was a small savings institution and he built it into a global player. The Independent notes that Calvi “worked hand-in-glove with Michele ‘The Shark’ Sindona, a Sicilian banker well connected with both the Mafia and the Christian Democrat political establishment.”
The Banco Ambrosiano was Italy’s second largest bank. It collapsed in the spring of 1982 with almost $1.3 billion missing from its vaults and nobody seemed to know where it was. Roberto Calvi was nowhere to be found.
Chairman of the Bank Vanishes
On June 19, 1982, BBC News reported, “Mr. Calvi fled to Venice nine days ago after shaving his moustache to avoid being recognized. From there it seems he hired a private plane to take him to London.”
The day before that report, a man walking to work saw a body hanging from a rope, tied to scaffolding, under Blackfriars Bridge in central London. It was Roberto Calvi, and, writes Nick Mathiason in The Observer (December 2003) he had “a length of orange rope woven into a lover’s knot around his neck. He was weighed down by bricks and found with £15,000 in cash in his pockets.”
Inquest Decides Calvi Took his own Life
A month after the grisly discovery an inquest was called and it returned a verdict of suicide. However, Calvi’s death seemed to be part of a pattern.
The BBC reports that, “The day before he was found dead, his secretary committed suicide in Milan by jumping off the fourth floor of the bank’s headquarters.” Fifty-five-year-old Teresa Corrocher left a suicide note angrily denouncing Calvi for destroying the bank and damaging the lives of its employees.
But, Calvi’s family believed the inquest verdict was too hasty. As Jason Bennetto writes in The Independent (February 2004) his widow and son “complained successfully that the proceedings had been rushed through and that the police did not do their job properly in the first few crucial days. A second inquest was held the following year, but it added to the confusion by returning an open verdict.”
Roberto Calvi’s Death Investigated Further
In 1991, the Calvi family hired an investigator, Jeff Katz, to find out what really happened to Roberto.
Nick Mathiason quotes Katz as saying “It was a fascinating case. It involved the Mafia, the Vatican, P2 [a powerful Masonic group]. It had 90 percent of my time for two years so I was really stuck into it.”
Police were also troubled that their earlier investigation might have missed something. They built a replica of the scaffolding from which Calvi was found hanging and a man of his build simulated what the banker would have had to do in order to commit suicide.
The test showed that, in climbing on the ironwork, Calvi would have gotten rust on his hands and shoes; forensic research found no rust on the dead man.
The recreation also showed that the overweight, 61-year-old man, with bricks in his pockets would have found it extremely difficult to clamber up the metal pipes.
This led to the conclusion that Roberto Calvi was hoisted onto the scaffolding by someone else – he was murdered. This assessment was confirmed when Italian police exhumed the banker’s remains and re-examined them; Bennetto points out the autopsy found that “Markings and damage to the vertebra in Calvi’s neck suggested there were two points of strangulation.” First, he was garrotted, and then strung up under the bridge.
Five Face Trial in Calvi’s Death
Further investigations led police, through an informant to Giuseppe “Pippo” Calo, a Mafia member serving a 20-year prison term. Charged along with him, according to the BBC (June 2007) were “Mr. Calvi’s close associate, businessman Flavio Carboni; businessman Ernesto Diotallevi; Mr. Calvi’s bodyguard and driver Silvano Vittor; and Mr. Carboni’s ex-girlfriend Manuela Kleinszig.”
Associated Press reported on June 6, 2007 that, “Prosecutors had alleged that Calo had ordered that Calvi be murdered so that he would not talk to investigators, and that Calvi was laundering money for mobsters who believed the banker had taken some of the money for himself.”
A jury in Rome did not buy the argument and all five were acquitted. Following the acquittals, Richard Owen of The Times wrote that investigator Jeff Katz “said it was ‘probably true’ that the Mafia had carried out the killing but that the gangsters suspected of the crime were either dead or missing.”
Or are they? A murder suspect was identified in July 1991 by a Mafia informant. Godfather Francesco “Frankie the Strangler” Di Carlo was living in England at the time of Calvi’s death and has admitted that his organization wanted the banker dead.
Di Carlo later became an informant and, in May 2012, he told Tony Thompson of The Observer he has no doubt it was the Cosa Nostra that bumped off Calvi.
Di Carlo says Roberto Calvi had been arrested once and released but that he “was naming names. No one had any trust in him any more. He owed a lot of money. His friends had all distanced themselves …
“I was not the one who hanged Calvi. One day I may write the full story, but the real killers will never be brought to justice because they are being protected by the Italian state, by members of the P2 masonic lodge.”
According to Di Carlo, Italian politicians, top bankers, the military, and the secret service have the power and desire to make sure the case is never solved.
- Licio Gelli was the venerable master of the Masonic lodge Propaganda Due (P2). Roberto Calvi was a member of the same lodge as was Michele Sindona, the Sicilian banker. Gelli was a fascist supporter of Benito Mussolini and boasted “I am a fascist and will die a fascist.” After the war, his shadow fell over several crooked and violent events. An Italian parliamentary inquiry concluded that the aim of P2 was to “intervene secretly in the political life of the country.” Everybody who has investigated the Banco Ambrosiano affair has the strong suspicion that Gelli had something to do with it. He died in December 2015 at the age of 96, and 179 gold ingots were found in his home hidden in flowerpots.
- Another person who took his knowledge of the Banco Ambrosiano collapse to his grave was Archbishop Paul Marcinkus. The American prelate was in charge of the Vatican Bank and had participated in many of Roberto Calvi’s financial schemes. This involvement cost the Catholic Church $500 million. Michele Sindona is another of the villains who found his way into Archbishop Marcinkus’s circle.
- Michele Sindona was convicted of murder in 1984 for the killing of a lawyer. In March 1986, while serving a life sentence in prison, he died after someone slipped cyanide into his morning cup of coffee.
- “1982: ‘God’s Banker’ Found Hanged.” BBC News, June 19, 1982.
- “Who Killed Calvi?” Nick Mathiason, The Observer, December 7, 2003.
- “Unearthed: the True Story of Roberto Calvi’s Death.” Jason Bennetto, The Independent, February 11, 2004)
- “Five Acquitted over Calvi Death.” BBC News, June 6, 2007.
- “All Acquitted in ‘God’s Banker’ Murder Trial.” Associated Press, June 6, 2007.
- “Family’s Distress as Five are Cleared of Conspiracy to Kill ‘God’s Banker.’ ” Richard Owen, The Times, June 7, 2007.
- “Mafia Boss Breaks Silence over Roberto Calvi Killing.” Tony Thompson, The Observer, May 12, 2012.
- “Licio Gelli Obituary.” John Hooper, The Guardian, December 29, 2015.
© 2017 Rupert Taylor
Anna McLay on October 02, 2019:
Intriguing....makes you wonder what goes on behind closed doors...& indeed the Vatican doors....& what's beneath the Vatican ?... im sure it's beyond our wildest comprehension...
Steve Dowell from East Central Indiana on March 01, 2017:
I remember this case. I first heard of it in an article about Pope Francis when he was a Cardinal in his home country of Argentina. I don't recall the full details but it basically discussed ties to Mr. Calvi and the use of Vatican funds through Banco Ambrosiano to finance the Falklands War.
Very interesting hub indeed - caught my eye as I was browsing through owlcation.