Monday, May 28, 2007

Cold Case: The Killing The Vatican Would Rather Forget (Contribution)

I am sitting in The Bunker, a fortified courthouse in suburban Rome.

The vast courtroom, lined with cages to hold suspects or jailed witnesses, is almost empty, save for one other journalist, a few video operators, the prosecutor and a smattering of defence lawyers in black robes adorned with gold tassels. Does anyone care about the dead man called "God's Banker" any more?

Giuseppe (Pippo) Calo does. He is one of the five defendants accused of complicity in the murder of Roberto Calvi, the chairman of Italy's Banco Ambrosiano from 1975 until his mysterious and sensational death in 1982.

A dapper old man, Mr. Calo makes his appearance by video link from the Ascoli Piceno prison, where he is serving multiple life sentences. He was the treasurer of the Cosa Nostra, the powerful Sicilian arm of the Mafia.

He was convicted of having arranged the 1984 bombing of an express train as it entered a tunnel between Florence and Bologna. Sixteen passengers died and 180 were wounded.

Mr. Calo says nothing; on this hot morning, he is a spectator. He apparently does not want to miss the performance of Renato Borzone, the lawyer for fellow defendant Flavio Carboni, the one who was closest to Mr. Calvi.

And what a performance — Mr. Borzone, tall, bearded and slightly stooped, is magnificently Italian. His arms are constantly in motion, his voice rising and falling dramatically as he protests the innocence of his client (he and his client maintain that Mr. Calvi committed suicide). At one point, he shouts as he pounds his hands on the table, startling the otherwise bored jurors.

Roberto Calvi, one of Italy's leading bankers charged with illegally transferring funds abroad and found hanged in London in 1982, is pictured in this May 29, 1981 file photo. (AP files)
My Italian is not good enough to grasp the subtleties of his arguments — but his cast of characters is familiar.

Mr. Borzone mentions Paul Marcinkus, the American archbishop who was head of the Vatican Bank (part-owner of Ambrosiano) when Mr. Calvi died; Opus Dei, the powerful conservative group within the Roman Catholic Church; Mr. Calvi's son Carlo, who lives in Montreal; Mr. Calo and other Mafiosi, and P2 (Propaganda Due), the secretive Masonic lodge that counted among its members Mr. Calvi, Archbishop Marcinkus and the young Silvio Berlusconi, the property developer and budding media magnate who would later become Italy's prime minister.

Indeed, the story of Mr. Calvi's death and the subsequent collapse of Ambrosiano, then Italy's largest private bank and the one favoured by the Vatican because of its Catholic heritage, is filled with some of the most powerful and notorious rogues, criminals, businessmen and politicians in modern Italian and European history.

The investigations and court trials have shed light, but only some, on a secret power network that evidently used Mr. Calvi and his bank to finance Italian political parties, anti-communist activities in Central America and support for Poland's Vatican-backed Solidarity movement.

Along the way, fortunes went missing and debts piled up. So did the bodies.

Two Pairs Of Underwear

Roberto Calvi was found swinging from the scaffolding under London's Blackfriars Bridge on June 18, 1982. An orange rope was around his neck. His feet were in the water. He was wearing an expensive grey suit and, bizarrely, two pairs of underwear. Bricks and stones were found in his pocket and in his crotch. He was carrying the equivalent of £7,370 in various currencies.

Initially, the London police identified the 62-year-old Italian as Gian Roberto Calvini, the name on the passport he was carrying, but a leak allowed the Roman press to report the man was in fact Roberto Calvi, the banker who had gone missing in Italy a few days earlier. Already, the case was a sensation in the Italian press.

The day before Mr. Calvi's body was discovered, his personal secretary, Grazziella Corracher, had killed herself by jumping out of a window at Ambrosiano's Milan headquarters. The note she left behind read: "May Calvi be double-cursed for the damage he has caused to the bank and its employees."

A London inquest concluded quickly — too quickly, as it turned out — that Mr. Calvi also had taken his own life.

The Italians never believed the suicide theory. They knew that he was in trouble, that his world was collapsing around him, that certain forces might have found him more valuable dead than alive.

If he wanted to commit suicide, why not do it in Milan instead of concocting a new identity and fleeing the country? Why would he humiliate himself by ramming a brick down his pants? Why would he shave off his mustache shortly before he was found hanging?

Mr. Calvi's problems first became public four years before his death, when Bank of Italy inspectors accused him and Ambrosiano of violating exchange controls.

A year later, the prosecutor who had taken on the case was murdered. A few months after that, a Milan lawyer was murdered. The lawyer was the liquidator of a bank controlled by Michele Sindona, the Mafia-linked financier from Sicily who had done business with Mr. Calvi (and was later convicted of having the liquidator liquidated).

In 1980, Italian magistrates investigating Ambrosiano withdrew Mr. Calvi's passport. He got it back, only to be arrested a year later for violating Italian currency-export controls. He was sentenced to four years in prison and released on bail.

The day before he died — six days after he had fled Italy — the Ambrosiano board revoked his powers as chairman and called in the Bank of Italy.

By then Mr. Calvi was in London in the company of Flavio Carboni, the Sardinian "businessman" who was one of his closest associates and is now accused in his death as well as another defendant, Silvano Vittor, a smuggler from Trieste hired by Mr. Carboni to spirit the banker out of the country.

They and their three co-accused may or may not be found guilty of arranging, or participating directly in, his murder — the verdicts are due next month. But even if they are, the Calvi case will continue to be shrouded in mystery. That's because far greater forces than the unholy five may have crushed Mr. Calvi and his bank.

The Faithful Son

Roberto Calvi, one of Italy's leading bankers charged with illegally transferring funds abroad and found hanged in London in 1982, is pictured in this May 29, 1981 file photo. (AP files)
Carlo Calvo is 53, and has lived in Canada since 1977, the year he joined the Principal Group, a now-defunct financial services company in Edmonton. (His father had Canadian investments, including a plaza in Calgary and a big ranch west of Edmonton.)

He now lives in Montreal, where his mother, Clara, died last year, and manages his family's money, part of which came from his father's life insurance. The rest of his time is devoted to investigating his father's death, which he never believed was a suicide. "They have the right defendants, but the wrong motives," he says.

According to Carlo Calvi, his father was not a criminal; he was a good man who was trapped by forces and events beyond his control. His death, his son says, was arranged for "political reasons."

As the head of the bank favoured by the Italian government and the Vatican, Mr. Calvi knew too much about the "illegal financing of political parties" and the "P2 connections" and "investments that had to be hidden."

Mr. Calvi says his father was silenced in the same way that Mino Pecorelli was silenced — by assassination. Mr. Pecorelli was an investigative journalist gunned down in 1979 after he reported a string of politically embarrassing scoops.

In Italy, it is widely believed that government officials wanted him out of the way (former prime minister Giulio Andreotti was convicted of playing a role in the death, but was later acquitted). "This is a copy of Mino Pecorelli," Mr. Calvi argues.

British journalist Philip Willan, whose book about the case, The Last Supper, has just been published, and American private investigator Jeff Katz, who has worked for Carlo Calvi, have similar views. Both say it's important to put the Calvi death into historical context.

In the late 1970s and into the early 1980s, when Ambrosiano was at the height of it power, Italy was on the front lines of the Cold War.

The Italian Communist Party was a major force and the fear among the North Atlantic Treaty Organization countries was that Italy was never more than one (possibly rigged) election away from a Soviet-backed leftist takeover. Western governments, the Vatican and the P2 Masonic Lodge — effectively a shadow government made up of senior politicians, businessmen, journalists and religious leaders — was adamantly anti-Communist.

The P2, led by Licio Gelli, who is still alive, invited Mr. Calvi to join, presumably to exploit Ambrosiano's banking network in its ideological quest against communism.

At the same time, Ronald Reagan's Republicans were financing a covert war against the Sandinistas in Nicaragua and Pope John Paul II was supporting Poland's Solidarity movement, led by Lech Walesa. All these anti-communist efforts required financing.

Big corporations used Ambrosiano to funnel money to non-communist political parties. Conveniently, Ambrosiano had a string of offshore banks.

Mr. Katz, who is chief executive officer of the London corporate investigations firm Bishop International, says Mr. Calvi was at the vortex of the three main elements of Italian power — the Mafia, the Vatican and the puppet masters behind top Italian politicians — through his association with Mr. Sindona, Archbishop Marcinkus and P2's Mr. Gelli.

For a while, the associations obviously proved beneficial to Mr. Calvi and his associates orbiting the bank.

At a certain point, the benefit ended. It's known that vast sums of money vanished.

Just before he died, Mr. Calvi was trying to find $300-million (U.S.) to pay to the Vatican Bank.

When Ambrosiano collapsed after he died, $1.3-billion (U.S.) was missing from its accounts. One credible theory is that the bank was used to launder Mafia money.

The prosecutor in the current trial, Luca Tescaroli, says Mr. Calvi was murdered because he had embezzled Cosa Nostra funds and to prevent him from blackmailing his accomplices in politics, in the P2 and at the Vatican Bank. In short, he probably knew too much about too many people in high places, and could make life difficult for them.

"The people who had the most to lose were the people in the political power structures," according to Mr. Katz.

Mr. Willan, whose book offers a fascinating glimpse into Italy of the Calvi era, agrees that the banker became too dangerous; he had enough knowledge of illegal activities to make him a potential blackmailer to be feared.

"He was a man who knew too much and was involved in sensitive financial transactions of the Cold War," he says. "It's like Murder on the Orient Express — they all put the dagger in him."

What Really Happened

Roberto Calvi died 25 years ago next month, and it was only last year that the case was officially reclassified as a homicide investigation.

The initial suicide verdict, according to Mr. Calvi and Mr. Katz, was the result of botched police work — for example, investigators failed to preserve the knot on the rope used on Mr. Calvi, and no fingerprints were taken from the scaffolding from which he was hung.

Also, no one looked into whether a boat had been stolen or rented to take the doomed man to the north arch of Blackfriars Bridge.

In 1991, Carlo Calvi hired Mr. Katz to help determine what had happened to his father.

The private investigators went over the forensic evidence.

The original scaffolding was found and reassembled. A man Mr. Calvi's size and wearing a pair of his shoes shimmied across the scaffolding to where the body was found.

After they had dried out (remember, Mr. Calvi's feet were in the water), the shoes were examined and found to have specks of rust and paint — unlike the shoes the banker actually wore, which bore no evidence of such contact.

The conclusion: He didn't climb out on the scaffolding — someone put him there.

Of the five suspects, Pippo Calo, the former Cosa Nostra treasurer, will die in prison even if the verdict goes his way. Flavio Carboni, the Sardinian who accompanied Mr. Calvi to London with Silvano Vittor, the smuggler, must take some satisfaction in knowing his lawyer, the animated Renato Borzone, has been particularly aggressive.

Ernesto Diotallevi, the Roman with alleged ties to the city's criminal gangs and business links to Mr. Carboni, has yet to be seen in court. Ditto Manuela Kleinszig, who was Mr. Carboni's mistress in the early 1980s.

Dozens of other potential witness are dead — from old age, murders and suicides. Liceo Gelli, the former P2 boss, was sentenced to 12 years for fraud in connection with the Ambrosiano collapse.
Until recently, he was under house arrest in the Tuscan villa where he still lives.

Archbishop Marcinkus, the former head of the Vatican Bank, went into comfortable retirement in Arizona and died last year at 84. Attempts to implicate him in the collapse of Ambrosiano were thrown out by the courts on jurisdiction grounds.

Michele Sindona, the Sicilian P2 member who taught Mr. Calvi how to set up offshore banks, committed suicide in prison in 1986.

Mr. Willan says it's hard to tell whether the murder trial will result in convictions. Over all, he has found the trial "somewhat disappointing" because key questions have been answered only partly, or not at all.

"Like, who actually put the noose around Calvi's neck and what exactly were the sensitive financing activities he was up to."

Whatever happens, Carlo Calvi vows to keep investigating his father's death. He wants to open his research, which fills two full rooms in his Montreal house, to the public and perhaps write a book.

The research is bound to be a dream come true for fans of conspiracy theories and stories of the dark side of the Cold War.

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