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Marcinkus: silent witness to Calvi mystery

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Marcinkus: silent witness to Calvi mystery

by repost Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2006

The Mafia, the Vatican heavyweight, the 'suicide' of God's Banker 25 years ago. the secrets that will be taken to the grave.

By Don Mackay

"GOD'S Banker", Roberto Calvi, was found hanging from a River Thames bridge nearly 25 years ago after apparently taking his own life.

But in one of the biggest scandals to hit the Vatican, a murder trial in Italy has linked the Holy See, the Mafia, freemasonry and money-laundering to the financier's death.

Prophetically, Calvi was quoted just before he died as saying: "The only book you've got to read is The Godfather... That's the only one that tells how the world is really run."

MOST of the flock at Mass in a church on the desert fringes regard the elderly priest in his crimson robes as a kindly soul full of humour.

The tall, balding man will tend to his parishioners and read the lesson in a drawling Chicago accent at St Clement of Rome church in Arizona's Sun City.

Then he will drive back to his white cinderblock house on the edge of a golf course fairway after chatting to the congregation and patting children on the head as they leave the service.

But what few know is the priest, named on the church notice-board only as "retired clergy assisting", holds the secrets to a scandal which has rocked the Vatican to its core.

He once stood at the shoulders of three successive popes and controlled untold billions as the head of the Vatican's own bank, the Institute of Religious Works.

As he hangs up his vestments, the former Archbishop Paul Marcinkus will remain as tightlipped as he has always done over the links between the Vatican bank, the Mafia and the death of Roberto Calvi, found swinging under Blackfriars Bridge in 1982.

Despite attempts by criminal prosecutors in Italy, Switzerland and America, the 84-year-old clergyman, bodyguard to the late Pope John Paul II, has kept a vow of silence behind the security of a Vatican diplomatic passport. He has not been questioned over claims of drug money laundering, shell companies, the collapse of an international bank, alleged murders - or the death of Calvi, dubbed "God's Banker" because of his closeness to the Vatican.

Calvi is said to have been introduced to the high echelons of the church by members of masonic P2, branded a "state within a state" by his Banco Ambrosiano mentor, Sicilian Michele Sindona.

SINDONA was jailed for the murder of an Italian magistrate probing his bank's dealings and died in prison in 1986 after drinking a cup of poisoned espresso coffee.

Now a court in Rome has been told Calvi, who took over as president of the bank, was murdered on the orders of the Mafia.

He had fled Banco Ambrosiano's Milan HQ as it teetered on the verge of collapse with debts over 800million - most in dummy loans to Latin American companies set up with the Vatican bank or based on letters of credit from the church state - a major shareholder.

In the wake of Calvi's death, the Vatican's bank, headed by Marcinkus, paid out 150million to Banco Ambrosiano creditors, but denied wrongdoing. As the bank collapsed, the seismic shock was felt not only by the Vatican but also by the Mafia - or more dangerously, the Sicilian Cosa Nostra.

Calvi shaved off his moustache and headed towards the Austrian border, some say to try to raise the cash to fill the "black hole" of Mafia money he was given to launder.

On bail pending an appeal against a jail term for currency offences, he never travelled with fewer than a dozen bodyguards. But he flew into Britain from Innsbruck on a private jet with only one recently hired protector, small-time smuggler Silvano Vittor. He was taken to a safe house in Chelsea Cloisters, West London, said to have been organised by businessman Flavio Carboni.

But within a week his body was found hanging from Blackfriars Bridge - his pockets full of bricks and 10,000 in mixed currency.

Conspiracy theorists claim the bricks were a sign of secret Catholic masons and the bridge was picked for its reference to the Dominican order of Black Friars.

Nearly 25 years on, Carboni and Vittor are on trial for Calvi's murder in a heavily fortified courtroom in Rome. But not even Mario Puzo - who echoed Calvi's death in The Godfather Part III - could have penned a plot to match the labyrinthine mix of religion, politics and criminality that has emerged. The first inquest in London ruled that Calvi committed suicide. But many believe it would have been impossible for pot-bellied, unfit Calvi, who suffered from vertigo, to get from either of the Thames's muddy banks to the point where his body was found swinging.

The rope was tied to scaffolding under the bridge's central arch, but tests showed no sign of paint or zinc on his clothes from the piping.

The suicide verdict was later quashed and Chief Justice Lord Lane granted an appeal to Calvi's widow Clara, son Carlo - himself now a banker in Montreal - and daughter Anna for a new hearing.

The judge asked: "If Signor Calvi was intent on killing himself, why should he make his way... four and a half miles from his eighth-floor flat to almost invisible scaffolding, to use a piece of rope, present seemingly only by chance, in order to hang himself? It was a perilous trip... There were plainly quicker, more convenient and less chancy methods available if he was bent on self-destruction."

A new inquest brought in an open verdict, leading the way for the City of London Police to reopen their investigation and now the trial in Rome.

A post mortem using forensic techniques not available in the 80s showed Calvi had been strangled before the orange rope was placed round his neck. There was no brick dust on his hands or under his nails, no bruises, no tears in his clothing. But there were traces of petrol on his trousers, suggesting he was taken to the spot by boat. The rope was of the sort used by Thames rivermen. Son Carlo said as the trial opened: "We are trying to ensure we get to the bottom of things and show my father was not simply the victim of Mafia hoods."

Jailed Mafia hitman and heroin smuggler Francesco Marino Mannoia testified by video link just days ago that he had twice been told Calvi died in a Cosa Nostra-ordered hit. He was on the run when another Mafia man told him Calvi had been murdered.

HE added: "He was no longer considered a reliable and trustworthy person by the Cosa Nostra.

"He had been given drugs money and money from contraband cigarette sales and he should have laundered it via his bank, but failed."

A former head of the Mafia's British organisation, Francesco Di Carlo, 61, said the accused Carboni had sent word he was looking for him to do a job. But by the time he answered the Mafia call he was told: "It has been taken care of."

Di Carlo, known as "Frankie the Strangler", said the request had come from Carboni as well as Sicilian Mafia boss Pippo Calo. Calo, Carboni and Vittor are on trial for murder, along with Carboni's Austrian girlfriend and businessman Ernesto Diotallevi. But even if they are found guilty, theories will still abound about who was really behind Calvi's death.

The murky world of Vatican politics and Mafia black arts even surrounds the death of John Paul I after only 33 days as Pope.

After he was elected he ordered the Vatican bank books to be opened up and pledged to end corruption and fraud. He officially died of a heart attack - but rumours still persist he was poisoned with a bedtime drink.

Eventually the Italian authorities issued arrest warrants for Marcinkus, but the church used its diplomatic immunity to keep investigators outside its walls and Marcinkus inside them for seven years, untouchable.

After he was allowed to "retire" to Chicago - where he was born in the 20s era of Al Capone - he moved to the Arizona parish where he still helps out, visiting the sick and the elderly.

At least two Popes took what they knew to their graves.

It looks as if Marcinkus will as well.

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MAY 1981: Roberto Calvi is jailed for four years but released pending an appeal for breaking Italian currency laws and smuggling untold millions out of the country.

JUNE 11 1982: Bank boss Calvi flees his Milan business headquarters as it collapses with 800million debts, including Mafialaundered drugs money. Later that week his secretary throws herself from the fourth-floor office.

JUNE 15 1982: Calvi secretly arrives in London by private jet and hides in Chelsea safe house.

JUNE 18 1982: The body of "God's Banker" is found hanging from underneath the City of London's Blackfriars Bridge. His pockets are full of bricks and stuffed with cash.

JULY 23 1982: An inquest rules that pot-bellied Calvi, 62, committed suicide after per forming "Spiderman-like" gymnastics to hang himself from the bridge.

MARCH 1983: The High Court quashes the suicide verdict and orders a new coroner's inquiry.

JULY 1983: Second inquest brings in an open verdict, saying Calvi did not take his own life. The City of London Police keep their file open.

JULY 1991: Ex-Mafia hitman Francesco Mannoia tells Rome prosecutors he knows Calvi was murdered by the Cosa Nostra. The supergrass's whole family is murdered when he starts co-operating with the authorites.

DECEMBER 2002: Italian prosecutors formally open a murder investigation into Calvi's death.

OCTOBER 2005: Four alleged Mafia men and a woman go on trial in Rome for Calvi's murder. Trial expected to last at least two years.

DECEMBER, 2005: Jailed Mafia British head tells trial he was asked to "do a job" on Calvi in London, but was later told it "had been taken care of".

FEBRUARY 2006: Supergrass Mannoia tells court he was told twice Calvi had been murdered on Cosa Nostra orders.

Further Reading:

Freemasonry in Italy

Freemasonry in the Vatican