After 23 years, four charged with murder of 'God's banker'

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The Independent Online

Four people are to be tried in Rome for the murder of the Italian banker Roberto Calvi, who was found hanging underneath Blackfriars Bridge in London 23 years ago.

A judge decided yesterday, after a preliminary trial lasting nearly a year, that there was enough evidence to indict Flavio Carboni, a businessman and friend of Calvi who was one of the last to see him alive, Carboni's former girlfriend, and two men who are claimed to have connections to the Mafia. The trial is scheduled to begin in October.

The news that the four should face trial for murder was the latest twist in a bizarre case that seems to have leapt from the pages of a Dan Brown pot-boiler - although it has been going on for so long it may have been the American thriller writer's original inspiration.

Roberto Calvi, nicknamed "God's Banker", was chairman of Banco Ambrosiano, a bank founded by a priest and with close links to the Vatican, the Sicilian Mafia and the notorious rogue P2 masonic lodge. The bank went bankrupt in June 1982, with debts of around £800m. Both the Vatican and the Mafia are believed to have lost huge sums in the crash.

Days later, Calvi's body was discovered dangling from a rope under the bridge, his coat pockets loaded with bricks. An inquest five weeks after he died concluded that he had committed suicide, a verdict denounced by his family who were convinced that there had been foul play.

It was many years before the case was taken any further. The highly sensitive involvement of figures high in the Church, the Italian government and organised crime is believed to have made the authorities queasy about taking it any further.

But in 2002 after a new post-mortem examination on Calvi's exhumed remains, using new forensic techniques, scientists appointed by Italian judges concluded that he had been strangled before being strung up from scaffolding under the bridge. They said great pains had been taken to make the murder look like suicide.

Judge Orlando Villoni in Rome decided that the evidence was sufficient to proceed with a murder trial. Mr Carboni was indicted on murder charges alongside the victim's former girlfriend Manuela Kleinszig, Giuseppe "Pippo" Calo and the businessman Ernesto Diotallevi.

Renato Borzone, Mr Carboni's lawyer, told the court his client denied the allegations and argued that Mr Calvi's death was a suicide.

"The defence maintains - based on medical examinations - Calvi committed suicide and was not murdered," he said. "There are elements favourable to the defence as well as the prosecution. There are things that have to be clarified."