Roberto Calvi
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Roberto Calvi

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Thu 27 Nov 2008 1:00 AM

On June 17, 1982, with his pockets filled with building bricks, $15,000
in three different currencies and a false passport, Roberto Calvi was found
hanging from scaffolding under Blackfriars Bridge in London’s financial
district. Known as ‘God’s Banker’ because of his close ties to the Holy See,
Calvi was an important financier and chairman of the Banco Ambrosiano, Italy’s
second-largest private bank until its collapse a few days earlier. The bank’s
crash and his death triggered a political and financial scandal that left many unanswered
questions in its wake.           

 

Born in Milan on April 13, 1920, Calvi joined the Banco Ambrosiano as an
employee in 1947. His rise to its pinnacle culminated in 1975, when he became
its chairman. With the help of two men-Archbishop Paul Marcinkus, head of the Istituto
delle Opere Religiose (IOR), the Vatican’s bank, and one of the Banco
Ambrosiano’s major shareholders; and
Licio Gelli, the grand master of Propaganda Due, also known as the P2, the
deviant Masonic lodge of which Calvi was a member-Calvi transformed the bank
from a staid, provincial institution into an international financial empire. He
created a network of dummy holdings and off-shore and foreign companies
stretching from Switzerland to the Carribean and South America.

 

Calvi’s intricate house of cards, however, soon came tumbling down. In
November 1977, posters alleging irregularities at the Banco Ambrosiano appeared
all over Milan. The Banca d’Italia subsequently inspected Banco Ambrosiano, and
in 1978 reported  that the bank had been
illegally exporting capital. A criminal investigation followed. Calvi was given
a four-year suspended sentence and a hefty fine for violating Italy’s currency
laws. While awaiting his appeal, Calvi sought help from the P2 and IOR to bail
out the bank. In 1974, the IOR had been involved in the crash of the Franklin
National Bank in America, which cost the Vatican over 30 million dollars. When
both refused, he turned to Sardinian businessman Flavio Carboni, who had ties
with politicians and with organised crime. However, not even he could stay the
bank’s collapse: it is estimated its debts were between 700 million and 1.5
billion dollars.

 

On June 10, 1982, Calvi shaved off his
moustache and fled the country. The day before his body was discovered, his
private secretary presumably committed suicide by jumping out of a fifth-floor
window at the Banco Ambrosiano. In the note she left, she blamed Calvi for the
bank’s financial catastrophe.

 

Rumours that Calvi had been murdered began surfacing almost immediately.
Because he was found under Blackfriars Bridge, some believed this was a
sinister message from the P2 as its members called themselves ‘black friars’.
Others speculated that Opus Dei may have been involved or that Calvi was killed
to prevent him from revealing that the Vatican was secretly funding the
Solidarity trade union in Poland or to hide his financing of weapons deals in
South America. Nonetheless, the first coroner’s inquest held in the England in
July 1982 ruled that his death was suicide. A year later, however, a second
inquest reached an open verdict, unable to determine the exact cause of death.
Calvi’s family believed he was murdered and fought hard to prove it. After his
body was exhumed in 1998, an independent forensic report published in October
2002 agreed, and in September 2003 the London police reopened the case as a
murder investigation, and Calvi’s death was the backdrop for several other
mysterious demises.

 

Meanwhile, back in Italy, a police informer
claimed that Calvi was killed by the Cosa Nostra as punishment for losing money
he was supposed to launder for the mafia and silence him about the politicians
and freemasons with close ties to it. In 1997, the judiciary took steps towards
finding those responsible for his homicide. But it was not until 2005 when
Pippo Calò, considered the mafia’s cashier; Flavio Carboni; Manuela Kleinszig,
an ex-fiancé of Carboni; Ernesto Diotallevi, one of the bosses of the
Rome-based Magliana gang; and Silvano Vittor, a smuggler and Calvi’s driver on
part of his escape route to London, were tried for murder. Gelli was also
investigated for the same crime but was not indicted. Finally, in 2007,
probably due to difficulties caused by the 25-year gap since Calvi died, the
four men were acquitted on insufficient evidence and Kleinszig was acquitted on
all counts.

 

At the end of this tale of intrigue, one cannot help wondering just how
many secrets went with Roberto Calvi to his grave.

 

 

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