Three Monkeys Online

A Curious, Alternative Magazine

Who Killed Roberto Calvi


Farley Clinton, speaking to you for an article relating to the canonisation process for the late Pope John Paul II, spoke of the Polish Pope as being “John Paul the Great. Being the Saint George who killed the international communist dragon…”. Are there elements of the Calvi/Ambrosiano story that could throw into question John Paul’s canonisation, or in the secular world cast a shadow over his historical reputation?


The financial scandal involving the IOR – the Vatican bank – and the global scandal of sexual abuse by priests both cast a shadow over John Paul’s pontificate. The origins of the financial scandal certainly date from before John Paul became Pope, but the scandal came to a head on his watch and we don’t really know what he thought about it. He certainly took a long time to remove Archbishop Paul Marcinkus from heading the Vatican bank and he didn’t include financial malpractice among the sins of the church for which he apologised on the occasion of the year 2000 Jubilee. For all his great virtues, I think it would be a mistake to rush into canonisation on a wave of emotional euphoria, partly inspired by the courage with which he faced his last illness and death. He presided over an institution that did business with a Mafia-linked murderer – Michele Sindona – and a corrupt Freemason and bankrupt – Calvi – and that has never provided an explanation as to how that could have happened.


You’ve been criticised, in the Observer review of the book, for detailing every conpiracy theory relating to Calvi’s death, and for “attributing more or less equal weight to all of them”. To my mind, though, it seems one of the strengths of the book. You place Calvi’s murder in the context of the complex web of power structures in Italy at the time – a fascinating example being the chapter you devote to the Bologna bombing of 1980, and Calvi’s possible connection . Did you consider narrowing the focus, to make the book more easily digestible?


My aim while writing the book was to make it as readable and popular as possible; I kept the notes to a bare minimum, for example. The story is, unfortunately, immensely complex and one cannot really understand it without placing it in its historic context and, as you say, in the web of power structures that existed in Italy at that time. I don’t think it would have been right, given the state of our knowledge at the moment, to have opted decisively for one conspiracy theory over the others. In my view, anyway, the theories could well dovetail. Several groups had an interest in Calvi’s death and they could well have collaborated together to eliminate him: a bit likeMurder on the Orient Express, where all the suspects were guilty.


One criticism often levelled at foreigners writing about Italy, particularly English journalists, is a lack of cultural sympathy – for want of a better term. Can that be a valid criticism, or is it just an easy opt-out clause to ignore harsh truths?


As a long-term resident of Italy, I don?t think I can be accused of a lack of cultural sympathy. Italy occupied an anomalous position in Europe during the Cold War, with more than its share of terrorism, organised crime, political assassination and corruption. I don’t think it’s a failure of cultural sympathy to point that out.


It is, perhaps, easy to shrug off the murder of Calvi as just another Italian intrigue – but the murder took place in England. How likely is it that there was some official collusion in the way the Calvi case was treated?


This is one of the big remaining questions about the story. Some people suggest the British police simply underestimated the case, made mistakes in good faith, and in any case felt it was not an appropriate use of public funds to investigate a suicide/murder that had its origins abroad. Many Italians, of course, were convinced that the British police were actively involved in a cover-up. It is certainly possible that they soft-pedalled on the investigation because of its implications for western security and to conceal the role of allied intelligence services. It has also been suggested that there was a strong masonic influence on the conduct of the investigation, but whether a British mason would have felt obliged to support a P2 brother at that time – by covering up his involvement in a crime, for example – I don’t really know.


Twenty five years after the discovery of the P2 list and the plan for the ‘re-birth of Italian democracy’, Italy has spying scandals (Telecom etc), speculation about secret attempts to take over the Corriere della Sera (Ricucci etc), and a return to cosy but weak centrist coalitions. This has inevitably given rise to speculation about a new form of the P2 working behind the scenes – how credible is such speculation, in your view?


I have myself been very struck by the parallels you mention. A battle for control of the Corriere della Sera, widespread illegal espionage, and politicians who exult that ‘We have a bank!’ or interfere to try and determine the outcome of a takeover battle all sound very familiar from the P2 era. It seems to me that the incestuous relationship between politics and business has never really changed, it’s just that the lobbies are rather less deadly than they used to be and don’t have the Cold War emergency as an excuse for their crimes. Italy is a genuine, working democracy, and it’s disappointing that a majority of Italians has never shown a desire to change, to really turn the page on the practices that made the P2 era notorious.


Finally, how difficult was it writing the book? In particular, how did official secrets acts impinge, if at all, on your investigations?


It was certainly difficult to break new ground with my investigation. People with inside knowledge in Britain were very un-keen to talk, particularly those who had followed the case on behalf of the intelligence services. It seems odd that even a quarter of a century on they couldn’t offer a few bland words for public consumption. And I thought it was significant that the Central Intelligence Agency couldn’t release a single page regarding Roberto Calvi, someone whose activities they would undoubtedly have monitored. Beyond that, no one has actively tried to discourage me – as yet.


The Last Supper – The Mafia, the Masons and the killing of Roberto Calvi by Philip Willan is published by Constable and Robinson

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