Roberto Calvi's final, frightened days

The approach came almost exactly 15 years ago in classic Calvi fashion; oblique, elliptic and through an intermediary.

In April 1982 I was Rome correspondent of the Financial Times. A lawyer acquaintance called, inviting me to lunch. I arrived to find a third man at the table, who first merely identified himself as "a representative."

Only well into the meal did it emerge precisely whom he represented in Rome: Roberto Calvi, the mysterious and secretive chairman of Banco Ambrosiano, implicated in scandal after scandal, yet still head of what on paper at least was the largest private banking group in Italy. Gradually I realised I that was being inspected and weighed up. How interesting it might be, the third man mused just before we parted, if I could meet "Il Presidente" in person.

A couple of days later, the phone rang. It was the "representative." An interview had been arranged for later that week in Milan, days before what would prove to be Ambrosiano's last annual general meeting of shareholders.

I was taken into the Ambrosiano building, through a maze of security checks. They included a lift with two separate locks and keys for access to the lavish suites housing Calvi and other senior executives on the top floor.

Always and obsessively private, Calvi would not be seeing me in his own office, where I might divine some clue to his personality.

Instead, we met in what seemed a small anteroom, drab and featureless, just off a grey marble corridor.

The image, months before he would be found hanged, lingers to this day. He was a bulky, ungainly man, of utterly undistinguished looks. He sat half slumped behind a desk, his suit dishevelled. It was as if he had slept in it.

Sometimes he would drum the edge of his desk with his fingertips. A nervous tic on the left side of his mouth, beneath the thin moustache, periodically made him grimace as he spoke. For a man of his status and apparent power, his language was ill-educated, coarse and almost peasant-like.

He imparted no new information, insisting that he was victim of a conspiracy, hounded and persecuted by police, magistrates and politicians and others whose names he would not speak of.

He deflected questions about recent reports of a $600m (pounds 375m) "hole" at its shadowy subsidiary in Lima, Peru. Ambrosiano, he insisted, was sound. But there were two things Calvi could not conceal. One was exhaustion. The other was fear.

To a grotesque degree he possessed the common Italian belief that life is controlled by dark and secret forces. Once he had commanded these forces, but by early 1982 the protector himself deesperately needed protection. The previous year Calvi had been briefly jailed on charges of stock manipulation. He had been exposed as a member of the P-2 freemasons' lodge. Worst of all, the gigantic fraud on which Ambrosiano was built could no longer be concealed.

Whether or not the Mafia killed him, Calvi and Ambrosiano beyond doubt were part of the murky underside of Italian life at that time, where perverted free-masonry, the secret services, organised crime and right-wing terrorism blurred into one. As his problems mounted, he felt in increasing physical danger.

The elaborate protection within the bank was one sign. Outside, a platoon of bodyguards and the armour-plated Alfa Romeos in which he travelled were costing Lire 4 million (pounds 2,000) a day.

Pestering, threatening phone calls would interrupt once sacred family weekends at his country home at Drezzo, north of Milan.

He took to carrying a pistol in his briefcase to the office. To Carlo De Benedetti, his business partner in the winter of 1981/82, he warned of "factors of international consensus" that prevented De Benedetti being installed as Ambrosiano vice-president. To another colleague, he spoke of a "climate of war."

At the end he insisted his daughter Anna leave Italy for her own safety, telling her of his fears for his life. If Italian investigators this time are right, those fears were amply justified.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
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

Recruitment Genius: Online Media Sales Trainee

£15000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Now our rapidly expanding and A...

Recruitment Genius: Public House Manager / Management Couples

£15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about great ...

Recruitment Genius: Production Planner

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Recruitment Genius: General Factory Operatives

£18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Day In a Page

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

Mussolini tried to warn his ally of the danger of bringing the country to its knees. So should we, says Patrick Cockburn
Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign

The short stroll that should be our walk of shame

Courting the global elite has failed to benefit Britain, as the vast disparity in wealth on display in the capital shows
Homeless Veterans appeal: The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty

Homeless Veterans appeal

The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty
Prince Charles the saviour of the nation? A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king

Prince Charles the saviour of the nation?

A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king
How books can defeat Isis: Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad

How books can defeat Isis

Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

She may be in charge of minimising our risks of injury, but the chair of the Health and Safety Executive still wants children to be able to hurt themselves
The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse

The open loathing between Obama and Netanyahu just got worse

The Israeli PM's relationship with the Obama has always been chilly, but going over the President's head on Iran will do him no favours, says Rupert Cornwell
French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

Fury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
Star choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells

Young carers to make dance debut

What happened when superstar choreographer Matthew Bourne encouraged 27 teenage carers to think about themselves for once?
Design Council's 70th anniversary: Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch

Design Council's 70th anniversary

Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch
Dame Harriet Walter: The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment

Dame Harriet Walter interview

The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment
Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Critics of Tom Stoppard's new play seem to agree that cerebral can never trump character, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's winter salads will make you feel energised through February

Bill Granger's winter salads

Salads aren't just a bit on the side, says our chef - their crunch, colour and natural goodness are perfect for a midwinter pick-me-up
England vs Wales: Cool head George Ford ready to put out dragon fire

George Ford: Cool head ready to put out dragon fire

No 10’s calmness under pressure will be key for England in Cardiff
Michael Calvin: Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links