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Das Langweilige ist interessant geworden, weil das Interessante angefangen hat langweilig zu werden. – Thomas Mann

"Never for money/always for love" - The Talking Heads

Tuesday, September 30, 2003


My favorite murder

Everyone has one. The Black Dahlia. The JFK assassination. Mine is undoubtedly the strange and lonely death of an Italian banker, Roberto Calvi. The man led the Banco Ambrosiano, a bank that was used by the Vatican, and unknown others, to shuffle money around. The bank collapsed in 83, missing 1.3 billion dollars -- a larger sum in 83 than now, but still not chump change.

Calvi was by all accounts a colorless little man. But in Italy in 1983, there were a lot of .... convergences, let us call them. In 1980, the worst act of terrorism in Italian history had occured, with the blowing up of the Bologna train station. That act was masterminded by a man with a long record of rightwing militancy, Stefano delle Chiaie, who was plugged in to the rightwing network that had tentacles worldwide: Franco's Spain, Argentina, and Chili in particular. The same cultural milieu that now circulates around Berlosconi was, in 83, entangled in a Masonic lodge, P-2, and various military organizations. Traversing this subculture was strong links to the Mafia, with its ties to the Christian Democrats in the South.

Calvi's connection to Lucio Gelli, a major figure on the right who was an associate of delle Chiaie, has always been fascinating. Gelli is a sinister figure, implicated in crimes world wide -- weather death squads in Argentina in the 70s, or the attempt to create an 'atmosphere of confusion" in Italy, preliminary to a military coup. How to finance such things? One way is to have a friendly bank or two at hand. This is Nick Tosches' country of secret handshakes writ large (Tosches, by the way, wrote a book about Michele Sindona, a bigger Italian banker/crook than Calvi -- and Calvi's mentor in some respects).

Conspiracy breeds conspiracy theory, which in turn becomes paranoid in the face of the six degrees of separation that supposedly lies between me and thee. But what if the six degrees are motivated? What if it is only one degree? What if money really is an invention of the devil? Calvi's case makes these thoughts hard to dismiss. Even a hardened spy novelist would hesitate to end a character the way Calvi ended -- suspended on a rope under Blackfriar's bridge in London, bricks in his pocket, his briefcase vanished, and a police department (in Thatcher's England) less than eager for scandal, judging the whole thing a suicide. The current spate of stories and indictments in Italy lay the blame for Calvi's death at the feet of the mafia. But in Italian politics -- where crime openly masquerades as state power, vide Berlusconi's recent passage of a blanket amnesty for himself and his cronies -- every accusation must be refracted through the motives of the accusers. In Calvi's case, the strongest motivation is the church's, which has been trying to wash the bloody stain away for twenty years.

Here's a site that delves into the death lovingly, if not too wisely:

"Calvi had been missing from Italy for one week when a mail-room clerk of the Daily Express, walking to his job on Fleet Street, saw a man suspended from a scaffold under the Blackfriars Bridge. He was hanging by the neck, his feet dragging by the flow of the Thames. He had been dead for five or six hours. After the River Police got him down, a detective noted that the dead man's cuffs and pockets were bulging with chunks of bricks and stones. A body search turned up, among other things, the equivalent of $15,000 in cash and a clumsily altered Italian passport in the name of Gian Roberto Calvini, age sixty-two. These and many other details, but particularly the name of the bridge and the bricks and stones, would take on a sinister pall."

Here's Katz's explanation of that pall:

"The circumstances of Calvi's end � notably his suspension beneath the Blackfriars Bridge and the bricks and stones on his body � were being read in Italy as the signature of the P2, of which he was a card-carrying member. The bizarre rituals of the lodge included the wearing of black robes and the use of the word "friar" in addressing of one another. And what are bricks and stones if not the substance of masonry? In initiation ceremonies the new member was sometimes told that betrayal of the P2's secrets would mean death by hanging and the washing of his corpse by the tides. Calvi, under recent questioning by Italian magistrates, had already revealed some of his own P2 activities, and lately he had been threatening to strip the layers further."

Here's the Guardian story:

"But in October 2002, a Mafia supergrass told police that Calvi had been murdered by the mob for stealing funds they had handed to him to launder. The supergrass accused a convicted Mafioso, Pippo Calo, of ordering the hit. The Italian inquiry agreed, announcing in July that it believed Calvi had been killed by mobsters who had made his murder look like a Masonic ritual. The need to punish and permanently silence Calvi, who had knowledge of Mafia money-laundering, was the main motive for the killing, the inquiry said "

The Guardian doesn't mention Calvi's good friend, Bishop Paul Marcinkus, who haled from Cicero, Illinois, and whose involvement with several Vatican financial scandals has been the subject of several books. Cicero, Illinois was, of course, Al Capone's town -- and it has an enduring reputation as a mobbed up place. This French site has the delirious scoop on the Cosa Nostra-Vatican connection -- and extends its accusations up to the present, claiming, on the basis of an Italian prosecutor's compilation of repenti testimony, that the Archbishop of Barcelona, no less ... well, here's the French:
"...on ne s'�tonnera pas du bien fond� des accusations de magistrats de Torre Anunziata (province de Naples) qui, gr�ce � des t�moignages de repentis recoup�s par des indices mat�rielles et des �coutes t�l�phoniques, mettent en cause en 1995 le cardinal Ricardo Maria Carles, archev�que de Barcelone, dans un trafic d'armes, de pierres pr�cieuses et, surtout, de coca�ne qui profiterait � la Mafia italienne. L'int�ress� a �videmment d�menti, ainsi que le ministre de l'int�rieur espagnol et le porte parole de l'Opus De�."

Yes, Calvi's murder is our favorite unsolved crime. Long may it trouble the consciences of the right wing Euro-underworld.

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