Calvi Trial to Expose `Dark' Side of Italian History (Update2)
Nov. 23, 2005
Nov. 23 (Bloomberg) -- Twenty-three years after Roberto Calvi's body was found hanging under London's Blackfriars Bridge, five people charged with the murder of the man dubbed ``God's Banker'' are on trial in Rome.
Prosecutors Luca Tescaroli and Maria Monteleone have charged jailed mobster Giuseppe ``Pippo'' Calo, Ernesto Diotallevi and three others with murder. The trial opened in a courthouse bunker on the outskirts of Rome today. A 1982 inquest in the U.K. ruled Calvi took his own life, while a second inquiry a year later failed to establish whether it was murder or suicide.
``A dark and unsettling chapter of Italian and British history will be revealed during the trial,'' said Tescaroli, the lead prosecutor in the case, in an interview Nov. 4 in his Rome office. ``It was a big mistake to say that he committed suicide. We found evidence that proves that Calvi was murdered.''
Calvi, who earned his nickname working with the Vatican, was the chairman and chief executive officer of Banco Ambrosiano, Italy's largest private bank before its collapse after he died in 1982. He was 62. Prosecutors say they will show that Ambrosiano helped unidentified individuals launder money and was at the center of a web that included the Mafia, the drugs trade, and the Vatican.
The trial has gripped the country because it may shed light on the role organized crime played in Italian life in the 1970s and 1980s. All the major national newspapers, including La Repubblica and Corriere della Sera, have run front page stories.
``There were many different kinds of interests represented in Ambrosiano,'' said Tescaroli, whose small office is lined with stacks of court files. ``There was the Vatican, the Mafia, Freemasons and politicians. This trial is going to tell just a part of all of these stories.''
The Vatican, through a spokesman who asked not to be named, declined to comment. Nothing connects Calo to the crime, his lawyer Corrado Oliviero said after an initial hearing on Oct. 6. Calo, a convicted mob boss, is currently in prison.
``There's nothing that links my client to this crime, if it was a crime,'' said Carlo Taormina, Diotallevi's lawyer and a member of parliament for Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's Forza Italia party. ``It's still a hypothesis as to whether it was a murder. I've never been convinced.''
The others charged are businessman Flavio Carboni, his ex- girlfriend Manuela Kleinszig and Silvano Vittor. Vittor and Carboni were present in the courtroom, and Calo was video-linked from prison in Ascoli Piceno, Italy.
``My conscience is clear,'' Carboni said in an interview. He shook hands with Vittor, who prosecutors say Carboni hired to accompany Calvi to London. ``I haven't seen him in 20 years. It would be rude for me not to say hello,'' Carboni said.
``The defense denies that there is certain proof that Roberto Calvi was murdered or that there was a crime,'' Carboni's lawyer Renato Borzone said in opening remarks today.
Kleinszig today denied any wrongdoing through her lawyer, Ersilia Barracca. Vittor said he had no hand in Cavli's death.
Defense lawyers asked that the court rule that the prosecution's investigations haven't formally concluded, a procedural matter opposed by prosecutors that could end the trial and require a new indictment. The court will rule on the matter at the next hearing scheduled for Nov. 30, judge Mario Lucio D'Andria said.
It has taken prosecutors more than two decades to pull together enough evidence to bring the case to trial. Impetus came from a 2002 forensic report by German scientist Bernd Brinkmann, who said Calvi couldn't have killed himself and that he was murdered by strangulation. Defense lawyers today contested this report, saying that other scientists had come to different conclusions and that they would be called to testify.
Prosecutors say they will try to show that the Istituto per l'Opere di Religione, commonly known as the Vatican bank, was used as an ``offshore'' vehicle by Calvi's Banco Ambrosiano to export money.
``The ties between Calvi and the Vatican were profound,'' said Ferruccio Pinotti, author of ``Hidden Powers,'' a book published in October on Calvi's death.
In 1984, the Vatican agreed to pay $241 million to Ambrosiano's creditors, without admitting any guilt in the bank's failure. The Vatican bank faces no charges in the Calvi trial.
Vatican bank head Archbishop Paul Marcinkus was a partner in the Bahamas-based Cisalpina Overseas Bank, founded in 1971, with Calvi and Michele Sindona, court papers show. Sindona was a banker linked to the Mafia who was killed by a poisoned espresso in 1986. The source of most of the money deposited in Cisalpina is unknown, prosecutors say, citing Bank of Italy inspectors.
``What is certain is that the Vatican bank acted as a fiduciary shield and hidden partner in a very complex financial construction,'' said a report prepared by Bank of Italy inspector Francesco Giuffrida dated Sept. 27, 2004.
Pinotti in his book disclosed a letter Calvi wrote to Pope John Paul II on June 5, 1982, less than two weeks before his death, in which Calvi pleads for the pontiff's aid in saving Banco Ambrosiano.
In the letter, Calvi said he had acted ``in the interest of'' the Vatican to finance and provide weapons for Poland's Solidarnosc labor movement and other anti-communist groups in the Eastern Bloc and in South and Central America.
``Your Holiness, the collapse of Banco Ambrosiano would provoke a catastrophe of unimaginable proportions and the Church would suffer the brunt of the damage,'' Calvi wrote. Pinotti said he obtained the letter from people close to Calvi's family.
The Mafia murdered Calvi because it no longer trusted him to launder their drug money, and because he had threatened to reveal their secrets, prosecutors say.
Italian mobsters used extortion, usury, fraud and theft to siphon 28 billion euros ($34 billion) from legal businesses in 2004, an increase of 17 percent, according to estimates by SOS Impresa, an association that fights corruption.
``Since World War II Italy's organized crime groups have played a role that extends beyond the regions of their birth,'' said Paolo Pezzino, a history professor at the University of Pisa and author of ``Mafie,'' a 1999 book on organized crime. ``The Calvi murder is symbolic. He was at the center of a web of interests that tied the financial system to organized crime.''
Prosecutors condensed two-and-a-half decades of investigations and trials that produced 150,000 pages of information into their 316-page report dated Dec. 28, 2004.
Tescaroli and Monteleone also built their case on new evidence, including testimony from Mafia turncoat Antonino Giuffre. Giuffre was head of the Caccamo clan of the Sicilian Mafia, known to insiders as ``Cosa Nostra.'' He was captured on April 16, 2002, and turned state's witness on June 19, 2002.
``Within Cosa Nostra, we had some big laughs when we read the newspapers that gave the news that Calvi had committed suicide,'' Giuffre said on Dec. 4, 2003. ``Cosa Nostra's problems get resolved in only one way: by elimination.''
To contact the reporter on this story:
Steve Scherer in Rome at [email protected]
Last Updated: November 23, 2005 11:02 EST