Who killed Vatican banker Roberto Calvi?

Documentary clip about the death of Roberto Calvi

In 1982, fugitive Italian banker Roberto Calvi was found hanging by his neck from London’s Blackfriars Bridge, in what was initially ruled to have been a suicide. Subsequent investigation found that Calvi could not have taken his own life however, and although the crime remains unsolved, it seemed to naturally link to his high place in a murky world which included the Sicilian Mafia, America’s CIA, Italian neo-fascists and the Catholic Church.

As the head of the Banco Ambrosiano, Calvi had overseen immense wealth, much of it belonging to the Vatican. He had also been close to financier Licio Gelli as a member of the clandestine Propaganda Due society, a far-right Masonic lodge which had allegedly plotted to overthrow the Italian Republic in 1970, a year before Calvi had become general manager of the Banco Ambrosiano. Named for its figurehead, fascist war hero Junio Borghese, the coup was called off at the last second, likely due to its failure to secure support from America’s Central Intelligence Agency.

Although the CIA was unwilling to back a total restoration of fascism in Italy, they were still willing to work with Gelli and other P2 members to further its overall goals. Useful figures included Michele Sindona, who served as a ley link between Gelli’s cabal and organised crime, particularly the Sicilian Mafia, handling the immense profits they made as part of the CIA-protected French Connection heroin syndicate. Sindona’s task was facilitated by his control of a network of financial institutions which were closely linked to the Banco Ambrosiano, including the American-based Franklin National Bank, which he had bought in 1972 with the alleged support of the Nixon administration.

Two years later however, with Nixon in disgrace, the Franklin National Bank would be declared insolvent, and Sindona’s network began to unravel. Amongst the wreckage was the Banca Privata Finanziaria, which saw Giorgio Ambrosoli appointed to liquidate it. In 1979, he was shot dead, having raised concerns about the links to Calvi and the Vatican. A key suspect in the resulting investigation was William Arico, a member of New York’s Lucchese crime family and associate of informant Henry Hill. Having allegedly linked the crime to powerful Italian politician Giulio Andreotti, a leading figure in the pro-Vatican Christian Democrat party who served several terms as Prime Minister, Arico would soon die in what was ruled a failed prison escape.

Sindona would also suffer a similar fate, poisoned by unknown parties in 1986, as questions about the Calvi death continued to swirl. To date however, there has been little official inquiry into the matter. The same year that Ambrosoli had been murdered, the magistrate in charge of the wider Banco Ambrosiano investigation, Emilio Alessandrini, was also gunned down in an ambush. In his case however, the killing was claimed by far-left organisation, Prima Linea, which continued to operate years after the peak of political violence in the previous decades.

A key member, who is alleged to have taken part in the Alessandrini murder, was Marco Donat-Cattin. The son of another major Christian Democrat, Carlo Donat-Cattin, Marco fled to France, allegedly helped by his father. Although he was extradited back to Italy, a series of deals with the authorities saw him released, only to be killed himself, in an apparent hit and run which, as ever, remains unsolved.

During the 1990s, Italy would see a nationwide investigation into the low-level corruption which marked its society. However, the main result of this was to further the creation of a political economy in which the role of the government would be reduced, in favour of private entities. A major figure in this new Italy would be Silvio Berlusconi, a business magnate with extensive interests in the media, who had joined Propaganda Due back in the 1970s. In his time as Prime Minister, and as a private citizen, Berlusconi would rely on the influence he gained through P2 in order to amass immense influence and power, providing a continuation of Gelli’s vision for the country.

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