At Italy On This Day you will read about events and festivals, about important moments in history, and about the people who have made Italy the country it is today, and where they came from. Italy is a country rich in art and music, fashion and design, food and wine, sporting achievement and political diversity. Italy On This Day provides fascinating insights to help you enjoy it all the more.

Wednesday, 13 April 2016

Roberto Calvi – banker

Mystery remains over bizarre death of bank chairman


Roberto Calvi came to be known as God's Banker
God's Banker: Roberto Calvi
Roberto Calvi, dubbed God’s Banker by the Press because of his close association with the Vatican, was born on this day in 1920 in Milan.

In 1982 his body was found hanging from scaffolding beneath Blackfriars Bridge close to London’s financial district. His death is a mystery that has never been satisfactorily solved and it has been made the subject of many books and films.

Calvi was the chairman of Banco Ambrosiano in Milan, which had direct links to Pope John Paul II through his bodyguard, Archbishop Paul Marcinkus. He was head of the Vatican Bank, which had shares in Ambrosiano.

Calvi had been missing for nine days before his body was found by a passer-by in London. At first police treated his death as suicide but a year later a second inquest overturned this and delivered an open verdict.

In October 2002, forensic experts commissioned by an Italian court finally concluded Calvi had been murdered.

Calvi had become chairman of Ambrosiano, Italy’s largest private bank, in 1975 and had built up a vast financial empire.

But three years later the Bank of Italy issued a report claiming Ambrosiano had illegally exported several million lire.

Calvi was arrested, found guilty and sentenced to four years' imprisonment but was then released pending an appeal.

During his short time in prison he had attempted suicide. But he disappeared after his release before he could appear in court to appeal against his conviction.

He was also due to be tried on charges of fraud involving property deals with a Sicilian banker, who was at the time in prison in America following the collapse of a bank in New York.

Calvi is known to have fled to Venice and hired a private plane to take him to London but nothing is known about the time he spent in the city.

Roberto Calvi was found hanging from Blackfriars Bridge in 1982
Blackfriars Bridge in London, where Calvi's body was found
(Photo: Peter Trimming CC BY-SA  3.0)

The day before his body was found hanging under the bridge, his secretary had jumped off the fourth floor of Ambrosiano’s headquarters in Milan.

When Calvi was found he had bricks in his pockets and in the fly of his trousers, but forensic tests later revealed that his hands had never touched them. He was also carrying large sums of money in different currencies, which seemed to rule out robbery as a motive.

The tests also concluded that the injuries to Calvi’s neck were inconsistent with hanging and it was revealed that at the time of his death the level of the river had been high enough for someone to have tied his body to the bridge while standing up in a boat below it. There was no evidence from Calvi’s hands or feet that he had climbed over the parapet and fixed the rope himself.

Five people were tried for Calvi’s murder in Rome in 2005 but after proceedings lasting almost two years they were all acquitted, the judge citing "insufficient evidence." Marcinkus was granted immunity from questioning as a Vatican employee and has since retired and died.

Calvi’s death remains a mystery but claims have been made about it at various times in books and newspapers that involve the Vatican Bank, the Mafia, and Propaganda Due (P2), a clandestine Masonic Lodge, of which Calvi was a member.

P2 members sometimes referred to themselves as frati neri, black friars, which led to suggestions Calvi might have been murdered and left hanging below that particular bridge as some kind of Masonic warning.


Palazzo Mezzanotte, home to the Milan Stock Exchange
(Photo: Goldmund 100 CC BY-SA 3.0)
Travel tip:

Milan is the main industrial, commercial and financial centre of Italy. The business district is home to the Borsa Italiana (stock exchange) and the headquarters of the main national banks. The Borsa is located in Palazzo Mezzanotte in Piazza Affari (Business Square). 

Travel tip:

The Vatican Bank in Vatican City is also known as the Institute for the Works of Religion and was founded by Pope Pius XII in 1942. In June 2013, Pope Francis appointed a commission to review the Institute’s activities and in October of the same year the first ever annual report was published and made available for download from the Institute’s new website, www.ior.va.

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