The first Calvi Mystery: Was his death suicide or murder?


On June 11, 1982, Roberto Calvi, the chairman of the Banco Ambrosiano, vanished from Italy with a black briefcase full of documents. One week later, his body was found hanging from an orange noose under Blackfriar's Bridge in London; his feet submerged in the swirling waters of the Thames. Five bricks were stuffed into his clothing. The black bag was gone. $1.2 billion was also missing from bank's subsidiaries in the Bahamas, Nicaragua, Peru, and Luxembourg, and the Vatican, which had made Calvi "God's Banker" was threatened with a one-half billion dollars loss it could not repay. The first coroner's jury in London held that Calvi had hung himself from Blackfriar's Bridge. But the verdict was quashed and a second jury declared it was unable to decide between murder and suicide.

The circumstances of his death defied a simple explanation. The London river police cut down his body from scaffolding under the bridge on the morning of June 19,1982. They found seven large bricks stuffed in the pockets and fly of the deceased. He was wearing a light weight grey suit, had an expensive Patek Phillippe watch on his wrist and about $14,000 in Swiss francs, British pounds and Italian Lire in his wallet. The watch and money suggested he was not a victim of any common robbery. He also had in his pockets four pair of eye-glasses and a bogus Italian passport in the name of "Gian Roberto Calvino," which was close enough to his name for him to be identified as Italy's fugitive banker.

Professor Frederick Keith Simpson, one of England's most experienced pathologist, conducted the autopsy. He found no river water in his lungs. The cause of death was asphyxia by hanging. Since his neck had not suffered the kind of injury that would have occurred in a free-fall, he determined that Calvi could not have dropped more than 2 feet before his fall was broken by the water. There was no medical evidence whatsoever of foul play such as marks on the arms to indicate he had been restrained, puncture marks on to indicated he had been injected with a drug and no traces of suspicious chemicals in his stomach of drugs (other than the residue of a sleeping pill he had taken the previous night).

Other non-medical clues, however, made the possibility of suicide more problematic. The Patek Phillippe watch established the time of death. Though finely-crafted, it was not water-proof. Its hands had stopped at 1:52. While the watch could have stopped for reasons other than water damage, the water marks on the face of it, when taken together with the dropping level of the tide that night at Blackfriar's bridge, established the latest time at which his body could have been suspended from the scaffolding. After 2:30 am, the level of the water in the Thames at Blackfriar's bridge would not have been high enough to have reached Calvi's wrist (as was calculated from the length of the rope he was hanging by when he was found), so he must have been hanging before then. But he could not have hung himself before 1 a.m. because the river level then would have been above his mouth (and there was no river water in his body). So, if he committed suicide, it he could only have been between 1:00 and 2:30 a.m.

But suicide during these hours, if possible at all, would require extraordinary activities from a sixty-two year old man, who was over-weight and suffered from vertigo. Despite the darkness, he would have had to find the scaffolding from the walkway along the river, which, since it was nearly submerged, could be seen only by leaning over the parapet wall at a strategic point. He would also have to have found in the dark the bricks (which were identified as coming from a construction site about a block away) and the rope to hang himself. Next, he would have to had hoisted himself over the parapet on the bridge and climbed twelve feet down a nearly vertical iron ladder to the level of the temporary scaffolding. He then would have to step across the two and one-half feet gap onto the scaffolding's rusty poles, which were arranged like monkey-bars in a children's playground, and edge his way about 8 feet along them to tie the rope to the eyelet. After that, he would to shimmy down to the next level of the scaffolding (otherwise the drop from the higher level would have resulted in tell-tale neck damage). Finally, after having put the bricks in his pockets and pants fly, and his head in the noose, he would have had to ease himself into the swirling water three feet below by clutching onto the poles (again, avoiding a free fall).

While such an acrobatic maneuver is possible, it would presumably leave some traces such as rust under his fingernails, splinters or abrasions on his hands, tears in his suit. "The long and short of it is we do not know how Calvi's body got onto the end of that rope," Deputy Superintendent John White explained to me. "We don't even know how he got from his hotel, four and one half miles away, to Blackfriar's Bridge."

After discovering the body, the London police had spent 6 weeks canvassing taxi drivers and other potential witnesses. They could not find, however, anyone in London who had seen him that night. Nor could they find in London any witness to his activities during the three days he had been in London prior to his death. He had arrived in London on June 15 in a chartered plane under a false name and checked into a $30 a night suite in the Chelsea Cloisters, a second-rate residential hotel in the Chelsea section of London. When the police searched the apartment after his death, they found his personal belongings-- including his toilet kit-- neatly packed inside two locked suitcases, as if they were waiting to be picked up by someone, but no other trace of his stay there. No hotel employee recalled seeing Calvi leave. During these London days, he was, as White put it, "the invisible man."

Calvi had been smuggled to London by a conspiracy that involved arranging three false identities, eight separate private plane flight around Europe, a speed boat, four different cars and 14 temporary residences including The Baur Au Lac and Holiday Inn in Zurich, the Amstel in Amsterdam, the George in Edinburgh and the Hilton, Sheraton and Chelsea in London. The conspirators included Flavio Carboni, a Sardenian contractor, Silvano Vittor, a cigarette smuggler and their girl friends, the Austrian sisters Manuela and Micheala Klienszig. Carboni arranged for Calvi to have an itinerary that took him in the middle of the night from Rome to Venice by plane, then to Trieste by car, where a motor boat sped him to an abandoned pier in Yugoslavia, from which a car took him to a chalet in Austria and then to the Innsbruck airport, where he boarded a private jet, and disguised as a Fiat executive, flew to England. Silvano Vittor was Calvi's bodyguard both during his stay and at the Chelsea Cloister. The Klienzig sisters had a less defined role. Before they could be questioned by the London police, they had all left London: Carboni, using a pseudonym, had gone to Scotland where he a chartered jet took him to Switzerland; Vittor, also using a pseudonym, took an early morning commercial flight to Vienna and the Klienszig sisters, later that morning, flew in a private plane to Austria They then remet in Zurich (where Carboni had in his Swiss Bank account $11 million he had received recently from Calvi.) They all denied seeing Calvi the night he disappeared.

Answer ( From Kroll Associates)

Carlo Calvi, Calvi's only son, was studying for his doctorate in economics at George Washington University in Washington D.C., when his father died,. He kew that his father had arranged in the weeks before his death new body guards and an armored limousine, kept a pistol in his drawer and retained Carboni, who had underworld connections, $19 million to protect him. He needed more closure to the mystery than the London police could provide. What was at stake for him was not merely the $5 million insurance policy which would not be paid in a suicide but, as he put it to me, the "honor of the Calvi family." In 1989, he hired the corporate detectives Kroll Associates to re-investigate was it even possible for his father to have committed suicide under the Blackfriar Bridge.

After locating, authenticating and re-assembling the original scaffolding Calvi had hung from, forensic experts retained by Kroll conducted a simple experiment. They had a stand-in for Calvi— same size and weight— walk the possible routes along the scaffolding poles that Calvi would have to walk if he tied the rope and hung himself. The stand-in wore pairs of Calvi's hand-made loafers that were similar to the one he had on when he was found, After each trial, these shoes were then put in water for the same time Calvi's shoes had been submerged, and then microscopically examined by a forensic chemist, who had worked in the London police laboratory for 18 years. In each case, he found thatthe soles of the stand-in's shoes had picked up yellow paint smears that matched those on the scaffolding poles. Given the pressure of the shoe on the narrow pole, he concluded such tell-tale traces were "unavoidable." Yet, when he examined the soles of the shoes Calvi had actually worn that day with a microscope, he found no traces of yellow pain on the soles. Since there was no way he could have hung himself except to have walked on the scaffolding, Kroll concluded "Someone else had to have tied him to the scaffolding and killed him."

Kroll then made some dediuctions on how Calvi could have been murdered. Since he couldn't have been forced, alive, onto the scaffolding, without leaving signs of struggle or signs on his shoes, the detectives deduced he must have been was strangled elsewhere, where he could be caught by surprise. They suggested Calvi's body could have been transported to the scaffolding in a small boat, where the rope was tied to his neck, and, weighed down by bricks so he wouldn't float horizontally, he was put into the water.

Second Mystery: If Murder, Who Are the Suspects

Four Clues:

1) Re: The Socialist Party.

When Calvi had been jailed in Lodi Prison for 42 days in 1981 in the medieval Lodi prison on a technical charge of evading currency exporting rules, he had summoned these Magistrates to his cell in the dead of night and volunteered information about what was one of Italy's most taboo-- and dangerous subjects: the funding of political parties. He limited his disclosures to an ambiguous $21 million loan to the Socialist Party but added, tantalizingly, that, if he had the "research opportunity" he could furnish more "precise" documentation. The extent of the potential damage was explained to me in 1989 by the former finance director of ENI, Florio Fiorini (who was himself arrested in 1992). He had met with Calvi the night he disappeared Milan with his black briefcase to discuss an eleventh hour rescue with ENI funds of the Banco Ambrosiano. He had been given this urgent assignment by his superiors at ENI. They would deny it later, but, according to Fiorini, they were acutely concern about the growing pressure on Calvi. Most of the money that Calvi had been using in his off-shore activities came from ENI (It was ENI deposits that had been siphoned through the Bellatrix ghost into the P-2 accounts). Even of greater concern, according to Fiorini, Calvi had intimate knowledge of the subterranean channels through which ENI, and other state-owned enterprises, put money into the "black accounts" of politicians of the major parties. The previously-discussed protection account was merely one of many such routes. Fiorini surmised from his conversations with Calvi that he might have records bearing on other aspects of the bank's liaison with ENI. How incendiary this information could be was demonstrated in February 1993 when, within days after Calvi's bribe was confirmed, criminal charges were lodged against the Justice Minister, Claudio Martelli and ex-Prime Minister, Bettino Craxi.

2) Re: The P-2 Lodge

Juerg Heer, who had been executive director of the credit section of Zurich's Rothschild Bank when it acted as intermediary in Calvi's abortive take over of the Rizzoli Group, claimed to have paid Calvi's kill fee. The Rizzoli deal was Calvi's last deal, which he himself described it as "his undoing" just days before vanishing. Although Heer's name appears fleetingly in the bank's correspondence about Rizzoli, his relevance to the Calvi Affair emerged only after he was abruptly fired by the Rothschild Bank in July 1992. Accused by the Rothschild Bank of exceeding his authority in arranging bad loans, he was for imprisoned for two months, and, adding insult to injury, then sued by his former employer to recover its losses. Heer retaliated in late November by airing the Rothschild Bank's dirty laundry in public, asserting he "was part of a criminal system." As the vendetta escalated, he dredged up sensitive details about Calvi's Rizzoli deal. As the intermediary, the Rothschild Bank had acted to shielded the true principals, including one of the most intriguing conspirators in Europe, Licio Gelli-- a self-styled poet whose machinations were subsequently documented in a 64 volume investigation by a Commission of the Italian Parliament. Gelli's power proceeded from the secret Masonic Lodge in Rome, Propagandi Due, or P-2, as it was called, of which he was Grand Master. Among the 900 elite members he had enrolled, were 43 members of Parliament, 48 generals, the heads of Italy's secret intelligence service, the top magistrates in the judiciary system, the civil servants running various state-owned enterprises (including ENI), key bank regulators and leading businessmen-- a veritable . The Parliamentary Commission described it as a "state within a state." Unlike other freemason lodges, it did not hold meetings or conduct ordinary Masonic business. Whatever its supposed purpose, it had become by the time Calvi had enrolled in it in 1980, a clearing-house through which businessmen could buy political protection from government officials-- with Gelli acting as go-between, deal-maker and record-keeper. In this Rizzoli deal, Gelli, together with other P-2 associates (including the managing director of Rizzoli) had parked a controlling block of its shares at the Rothschild Bank. Calvi then had his banks lend $142 million to a "ghost" corporate shell in Panama called Bellatrix which deposited it at the Rothschild Bank to buy the shares. As a crucial part of the arrangement, Bellatrix paid an artificially high price for the Rizzoli shares-- about ten times their market value-- to generate a windfall profit for the P-2 organizers of this deal. This huge inflow of money from the Panamian "ghost" occasioned frightening concern at the Rothschild Bank. According to Heer, a Rothschild director told him, "we have to find a solution or I will end up in Lake Zurich."

The solution they found was to temporarily put the Bellatrix money into two accounts at the bank-- called Zirka and Reciota-- under a discrete fiduciary. But, within days, it was release into other numbered accounts controlled by Gelli and his P-2 associates. So the $142 million borrowed by Calvi disappeared into P-2 havens-- destined for unknown uses.

The problem, as it turned out, was that Calvi did not receive the permission he needed from Italian authorities for the Banco Ambrosiano's Luxembourg subsidiary to take control of Rizzoli. On the contrary, Italian law was changed so as to make the transfer impossible, which meant, as far as Calvi was concerned, the Rizzoli deal had not been technically consummated. So, in theory, the $142 million that the P-2 men had, still belonged to his bank. According to his personal assistant, Calvi regarded this money as a "reserve fund," and had been pressing the P-2 men to return control of this money in 1982-- without success. And, by that June, with his "ghosts" having no way to repay their debt, this money was the difference between ruin and temporary salvation and Calvi headed for Zurich-- a destination he never reached. Shortly after Calvi's body was found, Heer carried out a "secret operation" at the request of one of Gelli's associate. Heer estimated that about $5 million drawn from Gelli's account in Geneva, which he identified as part of the missing Bellatrix funds, was packed in a suitcase and delivered to him at the Rothschild Bank. He also received one-half of a $100 bill. Following his instructions, he gave the suitcase to two strangers who later arrived at the bank with the matching half of the bill, and who left with the money in an armored limousine. Subsequently, he learned from a "family member" of Gelli's that this money had been used to pay for Calvi's murder.

Banking records produced in the various investigations of the bankruptcy confirmed that most of the Bellatrix money, diverted through the Rothschild Bank, went to Gelli and his P-2 associates. Gelli, in fact, had been arrested in Geneva that September making a withdrawal of $55 million from his account (and, after first escaping and then being re-arrested, he was sentenced to 18 ½ years in prison for contributing to the fraudulent bankruptcy of the Banco Ambrosiano).

3) Re: The Mafia

In July 1991, Francesco Mannoia, a Mafia "supergrasse," whose entire family had been killed since he began cooperating with the authorities, told the Rome Public Prosecutor that he had learned from a colleague in Sicily that Calvi had been strangled by Franco Di Carlo on orders from a Mafia boss in Rome, Pippo Calo. Di Carlo, who had been residing in London in 1982, was serving out a 25 year sentence in a British prison on a narcotics conviction. Although he denied the allegation, Kroll investigators ferreted out a credit slip that had been impounded in the narcotics investigation of him that showed that $100,000 had been deposited in his account at Barclay's Bank on June 16, 1982-- one day before Calvi disappeared.

4) re: The Vatican* In May 1988, Judge Mario Almerighi, a pipe-smoking Italian Sherlock Holmes, in the process of preparing the case against a gang of importers of hashish and heroin, found among the material that had been seized in a police raid, correspondence addressed to one of the highest officials in the Vatican Curia-- the Secretary of State of the Vatican, Cardinal Agostino Casaroli. Two of the letters asked the Vatican for 1.5 billion lire (or about $1 million) to reimburse the drug smuggler for funds he had advanced to Flavio Carboni to acquire documents written by Calvi. When he checked with postal authorities, he found, to his astonishment, that both letters had been sent by registered mail and signed for by an official in the Cardinal's office.

As he probed deeper into this affair, and interrogated those involved, he discovered that the documents in question had come from the black briefcase Calvi had taken with him to London. Carboni had delivered documents to a Vatican Bishop who had given him checks drawn on his account at the Institute For Religious Works (Instituto per le Opere di Religione), known by its Italian initials as the IOR, the Vatican's central--and only-- bank. Tracing the Bishop's checks through the IOR and other banks, he determined that Carboni had received at least 3 billion lire (about $2 million); "All of it was Vatican money," he explained to me. A memorandum he found further suggested that the Vatican had been willing to pay $40 million for other Calvi documents-- which Carboni had not delivered.

Calvi's black bag had not found in Calvi's locked room in the Chelsea Cloisters so presumably Calvi took it with him the night he died. No one admitted seeing it afterwards until it dramatically resurfaced on Italian television on April 1,1986, along with Carboni and Vittor, who vouched for its authenticity. * Even though Vatican officials insisted that the Bishop had acted without their approval in paying for these documents with IOR funds, Judge Almerighi found in the documents he had retrieved, enormous potential for extortion. One letter that Carboni admitted that he had delivered to the bishop had been written by Calvi to Pope John Paul II six days before Calvi fled Italy. Calvi called "his High Holiness" his "last hope", and asked his urgent help. He explained: "It was I who took on the heavy burden of remedying the errors and mistakes made by the present and former representatives of the IOR" and "providing financial aid to many countries and politico-religious associations on the instructions of authoritative representatives of the Vatican."

In the context of the ongoing litigation over the financial responsibility for the Banco Ambrosiano's missing $1.2 billion, the putative activities described in this letter had serious implications for the Vatican bank, and its head, American-born Archbishop Paul Casimir Marcinkus, who had also been a director of the Banco Ambrosiano Overseas in the Bahamas, In these twin positions, Marcinkus greatly expanded the IOR's banking business with the Banco Ambrosiano. Since the Vatican is a sovereign state, and the IOR exempt from Italian banking supervision, Calvi took advantage of its privileged status to transfer money from Italy to his bank's subsidiaries abroad.

After a four year odyssey of following Calvi's briefcase, Judge Almerighi concluded, like Agatha Christie's Murder on the Nile, multiple suspects were guilty. He recommended to two fellow magistrates in the Rome Tribuna they prosecute Franco Di Carlo and Pippo Calo, the Mafia men who allegedly contracted for the murder, Flavio Carboni, who delivered Calvi to London, and Licio Gelli, who allegedly paid the kill fee.

Questions? Email me at edepstein@worldnet.att.net
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