13 April 1920 – 17 June 1982
Roberto Calvi (13 April 1920 – 17 June 1982) was an Italian banker dubbed “God’s Banker” (Italian: Banchiere di Dio) by the press because of his close association with the Holy See. A native of Milan, Calvi was Chairman of Banco Ambrosiano, which collapsed in one of modern Italy’s biggest political scandals. His death in London in June 1982 is a source of enduring controversy and was ruled a murder after two coroner‘s inquests and an independent investigation. In Rome, in June 2007, five people were acquitted of the murder.
Gods Banker Life & Death
Claims have been made that factors in Calvi’s death were the Vatican Bank, Banco Ambrosiano’s main shareholder; the Mafia, which may have used Banco Ambrosiano for money laundering; and the Propaganda Due or P2 clandestine Masonic Lodge.
The Banco Ambrosiano scandal
Roberto Calvi was the chairman of Italy’s second largest private bank, Banco Ambrosiano, when it collapsed in 1982. In 1978, the Bank of Italy produced a report on the Banco Ambrosiano, which found that several billion lire had been exported illegally, leading to criminal investigations. In 1981, Calvi was tried, given a four-year suspended sentence and fined $19.8 million for transferring $27 million out of the country in violation of Italian currency laws.
He was released on bail pending appeal and kept his position at the bank. During his short spell in jail, he attempted suicide. Calvi’s family maintains that he was manipulated by others and was innocent of the crimes attributed to him.
The controversy surrounding Calvi’s dealings at Banco Ambrosiano echoed a previous scandal in 1974, when the Holy See lost an estimated $30 million upon the collapse of the Franklin National Bank, owned by the Sicilian-born financier Michele Sindona. Bad loans and foreign currency transactions led to the collapse of the bank. Sindona later died in prison after drinking coffee laced with cyanide.
On 5 June 1982, two weeks before the collapse of Banco Ambrosiano, Calvi wrote a letter of warning to Pope John Paul II, stating that such a forthcoming event would :
“provoke a catastrophe of unimaginable proportions in which the Church will suffer the gravest damage.”
Banco Ambrosiano collapsed in June 1982 following the discovery of debts (according to various sources) between 700 million and 1.5 billion US dollars. Much of the money had been siphoned off via the Vatican Bank (strictly named the Istituto per le Opere Religiose or Institute for Works of Religion), which owned 10% of Banco Ambrosiano, and was their main shareholder.
In 1984, the Vatican Bank agreed to pay US$224 million to the 120 creditors of the failed Banco Ambrosiano as a “recognition of moral involvement” in the bank’s collapse.
On 10 June 1982, Calvi went missing from his Rome apartment, having fled the country on a false passport in the name of Gian Roberto Calvini. He shaved off his moustache and fled initially to Venice. From there, he apparently hired a private plane to London via Zurich. At 7:30 am on Friday, 18 June 1982, a postal clerk was crossing Blackfriars Bridge and noticed his body hanging from scaffolding beneath Blackfriars Bridge on the edge of the financial district of London. Calvi’s clothing was stuffed with bricks, and he was carrying around $15,000 worth of cash in three different currencies.
Calvi was a member of Licio Gelli‘s illegal masonic lodge, P2, and members of P2 referred to themselves as frati neri or “black friars”. This led to a suggestion in some quarters that Calvi was murdered as a masonic warning because of the symbolism associated with the word “Blackfriars”.
The day before his body was found, Calvi was stripped of his post at Banco Ambrosiano by the Bank of Italy, and his 55-year-old private secretary, Graziella Corrocher, jumped to her death from a fifth floor window at Banco Ambrosiano. Corrocher left behind an angry note condemning the damage that Calvi had done to the bank and its employees. Corrocher’s death was ruled a suicide.
Calvi’s death was the subject of two coroner‘s inquests in the United Kingdom. The first recorded a verdict of suicide in July 1982. The Calvi family then secured the services of George Carman QC. At the second inquest, in July 1983, the jury recorded an open verdict, indicating that the court had been unable to determine the exact cause of death. Calvi’s family maintained that his death had been a murder.
In 1991 the Calvi family commissioned the New York-based investigation company Kroll Associates to investigate the circumstances of Calvi’s death. The case was assigned to Jeff Katz, who was then a senior case manager for the company in London. As part of his two-year investigation, Katz instructed former Home Office forensic scientists, including Angela Gallop, to undertake forensic tests.
As a result, it was found that Calvi could not have hanged himself from the scaffolding because the lack of paint and rust on his shoes proved that he had not walked on the scaffolding. In October 1992 the forensic report was submitted to the Home Secretary and the City of London Police, who dismissed it at the time.
Following the exhumation of Calvi’s body in December 1998, an Italian court commissioned a German forensic scientist to repeat the work produced by Katz and his forensic team. That report was published in October 2002, ten years after the original, and confirmed the first report. In addition, it said that the injuries to Calvi’s neck were inconsistent with hanging and he had not touched the bricks found in his pockets.
When Calvi’s body was found, the level of the Thames had receded with the tide, giving the scene the appearance of a suicide by hanging, but at the exact time of his death, the place on the scaffolding where the rope had been tied could have been reached by a person standing in a boat. That had also been the conclusion of a separate report by Katz to the Calvi family in 1992, which also detailed a reconstruction based on Calvi’s last known movements in London and theorized that Calvi had been taken by boat from a point of access to the River Thames in West London.[
This aspect of Calvi’s death was the focus of the theory that he was murdered. It is this version of events depicted on screen in Giuseppe Ferrara’s fictional film reconstruction of the event. In September 2003, the City of London police reopened their investigation as a murder inquiry.
Roberto Calvi’s life was insured for $10 million with Unione Italiana. Attempts by his family to obtain a payout resulted in litigation (Fisher v Unione Italiana  CLC 682). Following the forensic report of 2002, which established that Calvi had been murdered, the policy was finally settled, although around half of the sum was paid to creditors of the Calvi family who incurred considerable costs during their attempts to establish that Calvi had been murdered.
Prosecution of Giuseppe Calò and Licio Gelli
According to Mannoia, the killer was Francesco Di Carlo, a mafioso living in London at the time. The order to kill Calvi had come from Mafia boss Giuseppe Calò and Licio Gelli. When Di Carlo became an informer in June 1996, he denied he was the killer, but admitted he had been approached by Calò to do the job. However, Di Carlo could not be reached in time. When he later called Calò, the latter said that everything had been taken care of. According to Di Carlo, the killers were Vincenzo Casillo and Sergio Vaccari, who belonged to the Camorra from Naples and were later killed.
In 1997, Italian prosecutors in Rome implicated a member of the Sicilian Mafia, Giuseppe Calò, in Calvi’s murder, along with Flavio Carboni, a Sardinian businessman with wide ranging interests. Two other men, Ernesto Diotallevi (purportedly one of the leaders of the Banda della Magliana, a Roman Mafia-like organization) and former Mafia member turned informer Francesco Di Carlo, were also alleged to be involved in the killing.
In July 2003, the Italian prosecutors concluded that the Mafia acted not only in its own interests, but also to ensure that Calvi could not blackmail :
“politico-institutional figures and [representatives] of freemasonry, the P2 lodge, and the Institute of Religious Works with whom he had invested substantial sums of money, some of it from Cosa Nostra and Italian public corporations”.
The Square and Compasses is one of the most prominent symbols of Freemasonry.
On 19 July 2005, Licio Gelli, the grand master of the Propaganda Due or P2 masonic lodge, received a notification – required by Italian law – informing him that he was formally under investigation on charges of ordering the murder of Calvi along with Giuseppe Calò, Ernesto Diotallevi, Flavio Carboni and Carboni’s Austrian ex-girlfriend, Manuela Kleinszig. The four other suspects were already indicted on murder charges in April in a separate indictment. According to the indictment, the five ordered Calvi’s murder to prevent the banker “from using blackmail power against his political and institutional sponsors from the world of Masonry, belonging to the P2 lodge, or to the Institute for Religious Works (the Vatican Bank) with whom he had managed investments and financing with conspicuous sums of money, some of it coming from Cosa Nostra and public agencies”.
Gelli was accused of provoking Calvi’s death to punish him for embezzling money from Banco Ambrosiano that was owed to him and the Mafia. The Mafia allegedly wanted to prevent Calvi from revealing that Banco Ambrosiano was used for money laundering. Gelli denied involvement, but acknowledged that the financier was murdered. In his statement before the court, he said the killing was commissioned in Poland. This is thought to be a reference to Calvi’s alleged involvement in financing the Solidarity trade union movement at the request of Pope John Paul II, allegedly on behalf of the Vatican.
However, Gelli’s name was not in the final indictment at the trial that started in October 2005.
Trials in Italy
In 2005 the Italian magistrates investigating Calvi’s death took their inquiries to London in order to question witnesses. They had been cooperating with Chief Superintendent Trevor Smith who built his case partly on evidence provided by Jeff Katz. Smith had been able to make the first ever arrest of a UK witness who had allegedly committed perjury during the Calvi inquest.
On 5 October 2005, the trial of the five individuals charged with Calvi’s murder began in Rome. The defendants were Giuseppe Calò, Flavio Carboni, Manuela Kleinszig, Ernesto Diotallevi, and Calvi’s former driver and bodyguard Silvano Vittor. The trial took place in a specially fortified courtroom in Rome’s Rebibbia prison.
On 6 June 2007, all five individuals were cleared by the court of murdering Calvi.
Mario Lucio d’Andria, the presiding judge at the trial, threw out the charges citing “insufficient evidence” after hearing 20 months of evidence. The verdict was a surprise to some observers. The court ruled that Calvi’s death was murder and not suicide.
Legal experts following the trial said that the prosecutors found it hard to present a convincing case due to the 25 years that elapsed since Calvi’s death. Additionally, key witnesses were unwilling to testify, untraceable, or dead.
The prosecution called for Manuela Kleinszig to be cleared, stating that there was insufficient evidence against her, but sought life sentences for the four men.
The private investigator Jeff Katz, hired by Calvi’s family in 1991 to look into his death, claimed it was likely that senior figures in the Italian establishment escaped prosecution. “The problem is that the people who probably actually ordered the death of Calvi are not in the dock – but to get to those people might be very difficult indeed,” he said in an interview. Katz said it was “probably true” that the Mafia carried out the killing, but that the gangsters suspected of the crime were either dead or missing.
The verdict in the trial was not the end of the matter, since by June 2007 the prosecutor’s office in Rome had opened a second investigation implicating, among others, Licio Gelli.
In May 2009, the case against Licio Gelli was dropped. According to the magistrate there was insufficient evidence to argue that Gelli, the former head of the secret Masonic lodge P2, had played a role in the planning and execution of the crime.
On 7 May 2010, the Court of Appeals confirmed the acquittal of Calò, Carboni and Diotallevi. The public prosecutor, Luca Tescaroli, commented, after the verdict, that for the family
“Calvi has been murdered for the second time.”
Films about Calvi’s death
The Pope and the Mafia Millions Documentary
A 1983 PBS Frontline Documentary, titled “God’s Banker” investigated Calvi’s links with the Vatican, P-2, and if his death was really a suicide.
The circumstances surrounding Calvi’s death were made into a feature film, I Banchieri di Dio – Il Caso Calvi (God’s Bankers – The Calvi Case), in 2001.
Following the release of the film, Flavio Carboni sued the director Giuseppe Ferrara for slander, but lost the action. The lawsuit caused the film to be withdrawn from Italian cinemas, but it was released on video when the legal action ended.
A heavily fictionalized version of Calvi appears in the film The Godfather Part III in the character of Frederick Keinszig.
In 1990 The Comic Strip Presents, a Channel Four television series that had transferred to BBC2 that year, produced a spoof version of Calvi’s story under the title Spaghetti Hoops, with Nigel Planer in the lead role, and directed by Peter Richardson and co-written by him and Pete Richens.
With the same director and co-writers, the comedy film The Pope Must Die (1991), in which a naive priest, played by Robbie Coltrane, is unexpectedly made Pope and takes on a mafia dominated Vatican, has been described by Variety as “Loosely based on the Roberto Calvi banking scandal”.
In the 2009 film The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, the character of Tony, played by Heath Ledger, is found hanging (alive) under Blackfriars Bridge, described by director Terry Gilliam as “an homage to Roberto Calvi”