The fortune, the death of an Italian countess and claims of foul play

As the night rain fell on the veranda of the luxury villa, the Italian countess, clad only in a white robe to hide her faded beauty, stepped on to the wall guarding the cliff's edge. Her head swimming from a cocktail of whisky and sleeping pills and suffering from famously "weak nerves", she plunged to her death.

It sounds like the opening of a bad novel. But it has now been claimed that the accepted truth about the death of Countess Francesca Vacca Agusta in 2001 may indeed by a fiction. The brother of the fashion model-turned wealthy countess has now called for the case to be reopened, claiming that his sister didn't jump, she was pushed.

The gruesome mystery gripped Italy for months after the widow of the aristocratic helicopter tycoon Count Corradino Agusta, fell 80 metres to her death from the veranda of her villa in the millionaire's playground of Portofino, on Italy's north-west coast.

The inquiry at the time was told there were only three people in the house. Her lover, a Mexican called Tirso "Tito" Chazaro, her maid, Susanna Torretta, and a Polish domestic. The Countess supposedly fled from the house onto the veranda in a drunken rage, mounted a small wall at the edge of the veranda and, slipping on wet leaves, toppled over the edge.

But now the dead woman's brother, Domenico Vacca Graffagni, believes that Chazaro - the man revealed to be sole heir to her €26m (£18m) fortune, pushed her. He is demanding that the inquiry into his sister's death be reopened.

The ingredients of wealth, aristocracy and blood would be quite enough to sustain the average whodunnit, but in the case of Countess Agusta there was much more. Her marriage to Count Agusta broke down in 1985, though they were never divorced. She then took up with Maurizio Raggio, who happened to be in charge of the personal finances of Bettino Craxi.

Craxi, the prime minister during the 1980s, leader of the Socialist Party, patron to rising businessman Silvio Berlusconi, was the political boss at the centre, years later, of the so-called "Tangentopoli" ("Bribesville") corruption investigations that convulsed Italy in the early 1990s. Craxi fled to Tunisia where he died in exile and disgrace in 2000, convicted in absentia of corruption.

As the Tangentopoli scandal consumed practically all of Italy's established political parties, Countess Agusta and her well-connected lover, Mr Raggio, did not escape the investigators' attention. They alleged that the countess was the holder of Swiss bank accounts used by Craxi to launder some of the immense quantity of dirty money that came sloshing through his office. To avoid prison, in 1994 the countess and her lover fled to Mexico, but were extradited back to Italy.

Convicted of his role in the affair, Mr Raggio was sentenced to three years and four months in prison for money laundering and managing Craxi's dirty money. But by the time of her death, the Countess's affair with Mr Raggio was over and she was living with the Mexican who is now accused of involvement in her death.

Mr Graffagni told the Italian daily La Repubblica: "The inquiry was closed in a hasty fashion because of absence of proof, relying too readily on 'reasonable doubt'." He declined to preview the new evidence he intends to present to the inquiry, if it re-opens, but it is plain that the Mexican is the man in his sights. "It was manslaughter," he said. "He [Chazaro] was always beating her. He didn't mean to kill her. But that evening things didn't go the way the Carabinieri said, my sister was not drunk and she did not slip on wet leaves on the veranda."

Three weeks after her fall - Mr Graffagni claims she plunged not from the veranda but from a terrace on a different floor of the building - the countess's body washed up on the beach of Toulon, on the French Riviera. When the last of the many wills she apparently wrote was opened, the sole beneficiary was Mr Chazaro.

The will was challenged by Mr Raggio; in a secret out-of-court settlement, Mr Chazaro took 60 per cent and Mr Raggio - said to be the only man able to access some of the secret accounts where the countess had her money - took 40 per cent. Mr Chazaro was last heard from 12 months ago in Mexico.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Life and Style
life
Arts and Entertainment
Cold case: Aaron McCusker and Christopher Eccleston in ‘Fortitude’
tvReview: Sky Atlantic's ambitious new series Fortitude has begun with a feature-length special
Voices
Three people wearing masks depicting Ed Miliband, David Cameron and Nick Clegg
voicesPolitics is in the gutter – but there is an alternative, says Nigel Farage
Voices
The veterans Mark Hayward, Hugh Thompson and Sean Staines (back) with Grayson Perry (front left) and Evgeny Lebedev
charity appealMaverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
News
i100
News
people
Sport
Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho
footballThe more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Life and Style
Vote green: Benoit Berenger at The Duke of Cambridge in London's Islington
food + drinkBanishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turn over a new leaf
News
Joel Grey (left) poses next to a poster featuring his character in the film
peopleActor Joel Grey comes out at 82
News
i100
News
business
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Marketing & Sales Manager

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A reputable organisation within the leisure i...

Tradewind Recruitment: Science Teacher

£90 - £140 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: I am currently working in partnersh...

Recruitment Genius: Doctors - Dubai - High "Tax Free" Earnings

£96000 - £200000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Looking for a better earning p...

Recruitment Genius: PHP Developer

£32000 - £36000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A rapidly expanding company in ...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee