Rupert Cornwell: The Vatican's appeal as an offshore haven is still evident

Share
Related Topics

"Vatican Bank under investigation." Those four words instantly summon up one of the 20th century's most lurid financial mysteries – the death of Roberto Calvi, the $1.4bn collapse of his Banco Ambrosiano, and its entanglement with the Istituto per le Opere di Religione (IOR) – then, as now, the bank of the Holy See.

Calvi was found dead on 18 June 1982, his body hanging from scaffolding under Blackfriars Bridge in central London, his suit pockets stuffed with stones, as well as £7,400 worth of cash, in dollars and Swiss francs. His death was first ruled a suicide, then a murder, but the case has never been solved.

Those bizarre circumstances were newsworthy enough. Even more newsworthy were the links that emerged with the Vatican. Ambrosiano had hidden its colossal debts with a network of shell companies run out of an Ambrosiano subsidiary in Lima, Peru. All of them, as letters of patronage issued by the IOR admitted, were "directly or indirectly controlled" by the Vatican bank.

As the scandal grew, the Vatican insisted it had been duped by Calvi, and had no idea it could be construed as the biggest stockholder in the bank. It maintained those denials, but paid creditors $224m in recognition of its "moral involvement".

Much has changed since. A commission of cardinals now oversees IOR, run in Calvi's day by the cigar-smoking Lithuanian-American archbishop Paul Marcinkus, once bodyguard to Pope Paul VI, and whose most famous dictum was: "You can't run the Church on Hail Marys."

At first glance, this affair seems less momentous. The transfers being probed involve $30m (£19m), and the IOR's chairman, Ettore Gotti Tedeschi is a respected banking professional who is light years removed from the free-wheeling Marcinkus, a self-professed financial amateur.

But some things have not changed. The Vatican remains an independent state. Its appeal to Calvi was as an offshore bank within walking distance, but beyond legal reach of the authorities. The Bank of Italy has since tightened controls. But maybe some of the old appeal remains.

Rupert Cornwell is the author of 'God's Banker: the Life and Death of Roberto Calvi'

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

£32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped commission: SThree: Does earning a 6 figu...

Recruitment Genius: SEO Executive

£18000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: New Lift Sales Executive - Lift and Elevators

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A challenging opportunity for a...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

For all his faults, Russell Brand is utterly sincere, something politicians should emulate

Janet Street-Porter
 

Never underestimate the power of the National Trust

Boyd Tonkin
The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

The saffron censorship that governs India

Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

How did fandom get so dark?

Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

Disney's mega money-making formula

'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

Lobster has gone mainstream

Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

14 best Easter decorations

Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

Paul Scholes column

Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

The future of GM

The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

Britain's mild winters could be numbered

Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

Cowslips vs honeysuckle

It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss