Autopsy may solve deadly mystery of the Mattei Affair

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The Independent Online
Andrew Gumbel


After 35 years of silence, disinformation and Cold War paranoia, one of Italy's most intractable post-war mysteries appears to be close to resolution. According to a draft judicial report leaked to the newspaper La Stampa yesterday, there now seems to be definitive proof that Enrico Mattei, founding president of Italy's state energy giant Eni, was killed in 1962 by a bomb on board his private aircraft and not, as previously asserted, as a result of a simple accident.

The latest autopsy on Mr Mattei's body has, according to the report, shown "clear signs of multiple lesions caused by waves from an explosion". Investigators in the so-called Mattei Affair, which has obsessed Italy for years and was the subject of an award-winning film by Francesco Rosi in the 1970s, can now concentrate on the even more beguiling questions of who ordered the killing, and why.

Enrico Mattei was a troubling figure for many reasons. He single-handedly built up Italy's state-owned energy sector, to the fury of Italy's Cold War allies who wanted their private companies to be able to exploit the country's oil and natural gas reserves. He forged alliances with Middle Eastern clients of the Soviet Union, gazumped the multinational oil giants by offering better terms for distribution rights, and followed a rigorous price-fixing policy intended to keep petrol and fuel cheap for Italian consumers.

Moreover, Mr Mattei both worked the Italian political system to perfection and also considered himself above it; he once said that he used parties like taxis, "paying what it takes to get where I want to go". He also acted as a one-man ambassador for his country, in particular laying the groundwork for Italy's later policy of clientelistic diplomacy in the Middle East regardless of ethical or geopolitical considerations.

His enemies were legion. The US National Security Council described him as an irritation and an obstacle in a classified report from 1958. The French could not forgive him for doing business with the pro-independence movement in Algeria. Responsibility for his death has been laid at the door of everyone from the CIA, to the French extreme-nationalist group, the OAS, to the Sicilian Mafia.

A defence ministry report five months after his death, which was approved by the then minister Giulio Andreotti, concluded that the aircraft had exploded on the ground a few miles short of Milan's Linate airport, not in the air.

Later inquiries were shelved in 1966 and 1974. A journalist who dug into the affair, Mauro Di Mauro, ended up himself dying in mysterious circumstances. Finally, with the Cold War over, the Mafia informer Tommaso Buscetta announced three years ago that Mr Mattei had been killed by Cosa Nostra as a favour to its friends in the US business community. That statement triggered the latest inquiry, including the exhumation of Mr Mattei's corpse.