As the cardinals go into conclave tomorrow a Rome judge will begin delivering his verdict on the murder of Roberto Calvi, the banker whose spectacular financial collapse cast a shadow over the early years of the pontificate of Pope John Paul II. Judge Orlando Villoni must decide whether there is sufficient evidence to justify a full trial for four defendants charged with conspiring to murder Calvi and suspending his body from scaffolding under Blackfriars Bridge in London in what appeared to be a macabre symbolic warning to the controversial banker's associates.
The body of the man known as "God's banker" for his close financial relationship with the Vatican was found on the morning of 18 June 1982 by a postal clerk on his way to work at the Daily Express. The mystery of his death, his feet dangling in the Thames and his pockets stuffed with bricks, has baffled investigators for more than 20 years. The preliminary hearing - equivalent to the grand jury process in the United States - has taken just over a year to hear evidence about the complex intrigue that accompanied Calvi to his death.
As chairman of the Banco Ambrosiano, a bank founded by a priest, with close links to the diocese of Milan and to the Vatican's Institute for the Works of Religion (IOR), Calvi had embarked on an apparently suicidal series of offshore investments that left his bank with debts of some £800m. His flight to London in the company of a Sardinian property developer with close links to the secret services took place against an alarming backdrop of blackmail and conspiracy that brought senior prelates into uncomfortably close contact with Mafia hoods and the rogue freemasons of the P2 lodge. The American head of the IOR, Archbishop Paul Marcinkus, was at one time confined within the Vatican to avoid arrest by Milan prosecutors wanting to try him for his alleged role in the Ambrosiano bankruptcy.
Mr Villoni is expected to rule tomorrow on whether the prosecution has presented a sufficiently convincing case that Flavio Carboni, the Sardinian businessman, deliberately lured Calvi to his death and that the murder was carried out on the orders of Pippo Calo, a senior Mafia boss responsible for Cosa Nostra's finances who was allegedly peeved at the incompetent way Calvi had laundered his organisation's money. The two other defendants are Mr Carboni's then girlfriend, Manuela Kleinszig, and a Rome underworld boss, Ernesto Diotallevi. Further revelations are expected, however, from a parallel investigation, the subjects and content of which have remained highly secret.
"There has been very little mention of the Banco Ambrosiano scandal in all the accolades following the Pope's death," said Charles Raw, the author of The Moneychangers, an in-depth examination of the Ambrosiano affair. Mr Raw said the relationship between the Ambrosiano and the IOR had enabled the Vatican to cover up some of its more embarrassing investments in Italy, in companies with labour problems that might have led to trade union demonstrations in front of St Peter's. "In return they provided the mechanism for Calvi to cover up his."
Mr Raw estimates that the Vatican ultimately lost around $510m from its involvement with Calvi but, in the early stages, the relationship was mutually advantageous. "They made quite a lot of money out of it, which Marcinkus said he made directly available to the Pope," he said.
Mr Raw said Cardinal Agostino Casaroli, the Vatican secretary of state, was the man who should have intervened to put an end to this disreputable connection. "The ultimate decision in the Vatican lay with the Pope, so he should take ultimate responsibility."
Mr Raw said the Vatican had effectively admitted its guilt when it agreed to pay the Ambrosiano's liquidators $240m, a "goodwill payment" that the Vatican insisted implied no responsibility for the bankruptcy.
The fact that it has taken over 20 years to begin to clarify the circumstances and reasons for Calvi's death may have much to do with political considerations which discouraged official inquisitiveness in both Italy and Britain. In a report to the court, the Rome prosecutors point out that it took a day for the City of London police to establish Calvi's true identity - his passport was in the false name of Gian Roberto Calvini - despite the fact that his correct name was written on the inside of his jacket pocket.
In their report, prosecutors refer to "suspicious gaps" in the City of London police's early investigation and quote the testimony of Francesco Delfino, an Italian military intelligence officer who was sent to London on news of Calvi's death. "I was in contact with the British secret services who, when I arrived, were treating the case as though it were the suicide of a tramp," Mr Delfino said.Reuse content